New Sonoma school district chief emphasizes strong communication, collaboration

“My leadership style would best be described as a servant leader,” said Jeanette Rodriguez-Chien, incoming superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District. “I strongly believe in authentically listening to the needs of district stakeholders, engaging others in decision-making, communicating important information and being responsive to the needs of our students.”|

When Jeanette Rodriguez-Chien becomes superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District on July 1, she will take on a host of challenges, including steadily declining student enrollment, low test scores, campus safety concerns, the need to boost marginalized groups and the high percentage of English learners, and difficulty in retaining administrators and teachers.

She is confident that through strong communication and collaboration, the district will be able to successfully address many of its longstanding problems.

“Although Sonoma Valley faces many of the same issues as many other districts in the state and across the country, I believe will be able to address many of these issues in a productive, collaborative and strategic manner,” Rodriguez-Chien said. “My leadership style would best be described as a servant leader. I strongly believe in authentically listening to the needs of district stakeholders, engaging others in decision-making, communicating important information and being responsive to the needs of our students.

“I am also an innovative and data-driven leader. I believe in creating opportunities for new ideas and giving others the flexibility to think outside of the box.”

Rodriguez-Chien, who is the current deputy superintendent for the San Diego County Office of Education, has been in the education field for more than 30 years and has worked directly with many schools and districts across the state.

“This has allowed me to gain a breadth and depth of experience,” she said. “I know what effective systems look like, how to develop improvement plans and how to build a capacity of educators to implement high-quality education for all students.”

She also has coached and supported many teachers and administrators, and has a large network of educational leaders with deep expertise.

“The work ahead will be challenging, but I also know that there are many opportunities,” she said. “Keeping a positive mind set will be important.”

Rodriguez-Chien said she applied for the superintendent job in Sonoma Valley because of the district’s size and “potential to become exemplary.”

“The district has several assets, including dedicated educators and programs, that can be leveraged to make additional gains in student achievement,” she said. “The student demographics also appealed to me. With many of the students being of Latinx and English learners, I feel I understand the challenges they face, as a Latina leader who grew up in poverty.”

She was raised in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. Her father, Alfonso, had a career in sales while her mother, Margaret, was a special education paraeducator.

Her family spoke only English at home, but she spoke Spanish at her grandmother’s home, where she spent most of her time after attending classes each day, and became fluent.

Rodriguez-Chien went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1991. Then, she had a life-changing experience.

“I began working as a substitute teacher,” she said. “I instantly fell in love with the students and had the opportunity to see the direct impact I had on their learning. I never turned back and knew I wanted to shape the lives of students as part of my professional journey.”

She received a master’s degree in educational leadership from California State University, Los Angeles and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern California.

During her career, she has served as a principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District; executive director of educational services and director of categorical programs for Rowland Unified School District in Rowland Heights; assistant superintendent of educational services for Chino Valley Unified School District; and chief academic officer for the Santa Clara County Office of Education in San Jose.

Rodriguez-Chien became assistant superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education in July 2018 and was promoted to deputy superintendent in July 2020.

As deputy superintendent, she oversees the Learning and Leadership Division, and is responsible for assessment and accountability, district and school improvement, migrant education, multilingual education, early literacy, and equity and inclusion.

“Under her leadership, our equity department and multilingual education teams are leading efforts that are having a major impact across the state,” said Music Watson, chief of staff for the San Diego County Office of Education. “Dr. Rodriguez-Chien is very knowledgeable as an instructional leader and will bring (to Sonoma Valley) a wealth of experience in assessing the needs of students and programs.”

Rodriguez-Chien expects to move to the Sonoma Valley area before her three-year superintendent term begins. Her salary is $241,000 per year and her contract — approved on May 11 — calls for $12,000 in moving expenses, a 4% raise on July 1 in 2024 and 2025, and benefits including medical, dental and vision plans.

She plans to spend her first 90 days of service engaging in conversations with all stakeholder groups, reviewing documents, analyzing data and speaking with students to obtain an initial scan of the district.

“I hope to identify strengths and areas for improvement that will inform district priorities and future actions,” she said. “I want to be thoughtful, respectful, strategic and student centered when making decisions. I also intend to implement effective change management strategies.”

When she’s not working, Rodriguez-Chien enjoys traveling, hiking and reading. She also likes to spend time with her adult children: Amber, a marketing director for a biotech company, and Ryan, a paralegal who works in trust and probate law.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.