Tony Rodriguez to retire after over 40 years in education
TULARE – Spending his childhood working the fields of the central valley, Tulare Joint Union High School District (TJUHSD) superintendent Tony Rodriguez was rooted in humble beginnings. A child migrant worker from Porterville, Rodriguez said he was fortunate enough to have a couple of teachers guide him and teach him to believe in himself, setting him on a path to give back. Over four decades later, Rodriguez reflects on a career of service in education as he is set to retire from his post as superintendent in June.
“I got into education for a specific reason, I’ve been able to give back to help kids,” Rodriguez said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz, Rodriguez got his first gig in 1979 as a middle school teacher in San Jose. Rodriguez and his wife moved to Watsonville two years later where he took a job as a high school math teacher. Rising real estate costs in the 1980s prompted Rodriguez to relocate back to Tulare County, where he took a job at Tulare Union High School as a math teacher.
“During that time as a math teacher—I really loved teaching,” Rodriguez said. “I felt that I was making a difference in kids lives, and the reward was the kids coming back and telling you that you helped them out quite a bit.”
Years down the road Rodriguez was tapped for an administration position, which he politely declined, preferring the classroom where he thought he was making a real difference.
“I asked myself, ‘why would I want to be [an administrator] if I feel like that?’” Rodriguez said.
The principal of Tulare Union High School at the time told him it’s about leadership, a more overarching opportunity to help students, more than just the 30 in your classroom, and to support teachers as well.
“I had never thought of that, how I could not only support students, but support teachers,” Rodriguez said. “My philosophy had always been that the most important person in education is the teacher in the classroom. We can use the best books, materials, curriculum but the teacher in the classroom makes the difference.”
Rodriguez eventually took the offer in 1997 and began as an assistant dean. Ten years later he would be assistant superintendent of the district, where Rodriguez and the district made sweeping changes in interventions and social and emotional support for students that he’s proud of to this day.
“We brought in additional support for our students as far as psychologists and therapists. We implemented new systems to be able to make improvements for our students, and we got results,” Rodriguez said. “What we did is we started getting our students to want to be in school, to want to attend.”
Rodriguez saw TJUHSD’s graduation rate go from 71% to the 96% it is today, and a 29% dropout rate down to just 4%. Rodriguez said he’s also proud of how the district has handled it’s toughest adversity yet—COVID-19. Originally planning to retire last year, Rodriguez decided to stay and help the district when the coronavirus outbreak hit, and said he couldn’t be happier with how prepared the district was to handle the response.
“Each student already had a Chromebook. Four or five years ago, we had already started making sure that every one of our students had access to Wi-Fi,” Rodriguez said. “I think our district was prepared overall for distance learning. The toughest thing for me in this last year is seeing how kids were suffering as far as being away from school and suffering social and emotional issues.”
Rodriguez said he would receive emails from students asking to bring them back to school. March 23 was the day, Rodriguez got to fulfill that request, marking the first day, the majority of all students were back on campus.
“I was there and you could see the excitement of the kids,” Rodriguez said. “You could see that they were so glad they were able to come back.”
The district has begun its search for a new superintendent, which is being facilitated by the Tulare County Office of Education.