WATSONVILLE — In the two years since Michelle Rodriguez began her tenure as Pajaro Valley Unified School District superintendent, the district has boosted by 20 percent the numbers of first-graders who are able to decode and comprehend what they read.
Moreover, students in second, fourth, eighth and tenth grade have shown exponential growth in reading and math scores.
Fourth-grade language arts scores showed a nine-point growth while eighth-graders boosted theirs by 11 points. Fifth-graders, meanwhile, grew their math scores by 10 points.
Those statistics were among many outlined by Rodriguez during a breakfast time meeting in the community room on the top floor of the Civic Plaza Friday.
The State of the District breakfast packed the community room with educators, district officials and local political leaders.
It also brought student bands from Radcliff Elementary and Cesar Chavez Middle schools, whose performances during the meeting underscored district efforts to reinstate music programs after recession-era cuts.
"That was something that's near and dear to my heart, and something I've been waiting to see for a long time," PVUSD board President Leslie De Rose said after the Radcliff students played.
Rodriguez also touted the creation throughout the district of so-called 21st-century classrooms, which are also called fab-labs. Modeled after workspaces in companies such as Google, these spaces are replete with technology and designed to train students to work collaboratively, thus preparing them for a workforce largely driven by computers.
“We need to re-imagine PVUSD," Rodriguez said. "We're changing the way we teach, so we have to change the way the classrooms work."
The district has also changed student reading instruction since Rodriguez started.
Teachers in nine schools now use Systematic Instruction in Phoneme Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words, a program better abbreviated as SIPPS.
In addition, more parents are now taking advantage of workshops and counseling opportunities geared to help them support their children’s education, Rodriguez said.
"We know that parent participation matters," she said.
Pre-eminent throughout the meeting was the theme of preparing students for post-secondary education. Rodriguez said that increasing numbers of PVUSD graduates are applying to — and being accepted at — University of California schools.
The district has improved its financial picture by hiring a Manager of Risk and Safety, who has helped save $1.2 million, and a grant writer, who has brought in $5.57 million, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also discussed the district's teacher compensation. According to Rodriguez, PVUSD teachers have the second highest take home pay in the "greater area" that includes Salinas, Hollister, Gilroy and Santa Cruz.
Moreover, 90 percent of the district's budget goes to employee compensation. This includes health benefits that total up to $30,000 per year, Rodriguez said.
"We do invest in our staff, because we know that student success is supported by those closest to the students," she said. "Our money is spent in the schools, close to the children."