Top Newark schools official announces exit from district

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 12, 2016

Vanessa Rodriguez

 

NEWARK – A high-ranking and sometimes controversial administrator with the city's school district has tendered her resignation.

Newark Public Schools spokeswoman Dreena Whitfield confirmed that Chief Talent Officer Vanessa Rodriguez will leave her position as chief talent officer as of Jan. 19.

In an email to colleagues provided to NJ Advance Media, she said she will pursue an unspecified opportunity outside the school district.

"The past three years have been extremely rewarding, and I am very proud of the work we have done to support Newark's talented educators," she said.

In a subsequent letter to staff, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Cerf praised Rodriguez for helping guide the district through a period of significant turmoil, including the departure of former school chief Cami Anderson, who hired her in January 2013.

He praised Rodriguez for implementing widespread changes included in a groundbreaking teachers' contract negotiated just after her arrival, which significantly reformed the way administrators hired and evaluated thousands of staff members.

"Needless to say, when executing this much change it does not always come easily," Cerf said. "Perhaps what I admire most about Vanessa's work is that she always stood up for what she believed was in the best interest of Newark children."

During her three years in Newark, however, Rodriguez became a frequent target of criticisms by those opposed to Anderson's regime and the drastic reforms she implemented - with varying degrees of success – over the course of her tenure.

In August - just weeks after Anderson vacated her position - the city's School Advisory Board voted to recommend Rodriguez be fired over her alleged role in processing $12,115 in vacation and sick leave payments to a former Newark assistant superintendent who had left the district for a position in Arkansas.

Three months later, the city's teachers' union filed a complaint with the state Board of Education and Education Commissioner David Hespe claiming she lacked the proper certifications to perform her duties, including the approval of layoffs and filing of tenure charges.

Union President John Abeigon said a judge ordered the suit redirected to the state's Office of Administrative Law late last month.

"The fact is that she was never qualified or certified to do any of the things she did under her self-created title of Chief Talent Officer," he said. "Her leaving the district will not absolve her."

Rodriguez, who earns an annual salary of $118,501, will be replaced on an interim basis by Larisa Shambaugh, the district's executive director of special initiatives in the talent office, according to Cerf.

Prior to arriving in Newark, Rodriguez spent time with Teach for America, non-profit organization New Leaders for New Schools and as an administrator for the New York City public schools.

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