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Below are profiles of the five community colleges named finalists for the American Association of Community Colleges' inaugural Awards of Excellence in the category of board-CEO relationship. The colleges include:
The winner will be named April 23 at the annual AACC convention.
Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio)
Act as a unit. Represent the common good. Set policy direction. Employ, evaluate and support the chief executive officer. Support a positive climate. Support and advocate for the college. Lead as a thoughtful and educated team.
Those are only some of the principles adhered to by the Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) board of trustees, and they are carried out in a “uniquely complementary partnership” between Tri-C President Jerry Sue Thornton, members of the college’s senior leadership team and the board of trustees, according to Board Chair David Whitehead.
Leadership development is a fundamental part of service on the board. Ongoing professional development activities, such as orientation, annual retreats and workshops throughout Ohio, keep the board knowledgeable and refreshed.
“At Cuyahoga Community College, the development of leadership is at the core of the organizational culture, and that culture is as prevalent at the board level as it is elsewhere throughout the college,” Whitehead said.
Using their skills and knowledge, senior leadership and board members often work together on presentations on topics such as student success and report at meetings of national associations, including the Association of Community College Trustees.
Also, through annual evaluations and assessments, weekly board updates from Thornton and invitations to college events and meetings, the Tri-C board remains engaged in serving the “community’s and students’ ever-changing needs, representing the public interest, establishing a climate for learning and monitoring the effectiveness of the college,” Whitehead said.
Howard Community College (Maryland)
Continuous quality improvement is fundamental to the board of trustees and the president of Howard Community College (HCC). This commitment is demonstrated through sustained professional development and ongoing evaluation.
Board members’ professional development journey begins on the first day, with a comprehensive new-trustee orientation. They learn the fundamentals about the college—demographics, budget, strategic planning and more. But it doesn’t end there.
“Community colleges are complex and it is impossible to transfer all of the necessary knowledge and material in a one-day setting,” said HCC President Kathleen Hetherington.
Training continues throughout the trustees’ tenure so they may gain a “deeper perspective on student challenges and needs, and develop a broad understanding of all the college offers to the community,” according to Hetherington. There are monthly work sessions and an annual daylong board retreat.
Through continuous assessment, the board is able to shape future board development and identify areas for growth and improvement. The HCC board also collaborates with the president to establish annual presidential objectives. And a college-wide survey of faculty and staff is used to evaluate the board and the CEO on areas such as building a climate of trust and openness, and making appropriate decisions regarding resources.
These processes have led to a board that is engaged and are leaders in engaging others, not only in the community, but also statewide, as they promote vibrant and sustainable community colleges.
Long Beach Community College District (California)
At Long Beach Community College District (LBCCD), drastic funding cuts have not deterred the board of trustees and the CEO from moving key agendas forward. Through their collaboration, they have increased student success and brought high-impact economic development programs to the area.
The LBCCD board of trustees and Superintendent-President Eloy Ortiz Oakley have had to make difficult decisions in recent years. Budget cuts forced them to cut some popular community and senior programs and reduce staff.
“It takes a strong resolve” to make those unpopular decisions, Oakley said, but by making policy changes and refocusing resources, the college has been able to strengthen its mission.
The relationship is built on continuous communication and evaluation and assessment of the board’s and CEO’s goals.
With the board’s support and leadership, LBCCD is creating new opportunities for local graduates to complete certificates, and degrees and to transfer with the development of the Promise Pathways program. The program has generated 400 percent and 300 percent increases in college-level placements for incoming local graduates in English and math, respectively.
In terms of economic development, the college has gone beyond workforce training programs and, with the board’s encouragement, secured the Small Business Development Network of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The college also became a partner with Goldman Sachs to deliver the 10,000 Small Businesses program.
“Together, the board and I have been able to move important agendas forward at LBCC despite unprecedented challenges and changes to our funding and mission,” Oakley said.
Montgomery College (Maryland)
In 2010, a change in leadership spurred institutional changes at Montgomery College (MC) and led to a winning collaboration between the college’s trustees and president.
“Through the hard work and unified vision of these talented and caring individuals, our college has been able to move forward in many significant and meaningful ways,” said MC President DeRionne Pollard.
MC was experiencing challenging times when Pollard took the helm. Confidence in the institution was low and public funding had decreased substantially. The board never wavered, though, in its “heartfelt dedication and assuredness in purpose,” according to Board Chair Stephen Kaufman. Trustees remained committed to making the best decisions in the best interest of the students, faculty, staff and community.
Pollard and the board quickly formed a strong partnership and began laying out a path forward for the college. The board directed Pollard in developing the long-range strategic plan, Montgomery College 2020. The plan puts a new emphasis on completion, student services, economic development, community engagement and accountability.
They also established a new policy to support a fully participatory governance system, in which “every voice from all corners of the college can be heard,” Pollard said. The board often meets with stakeholders for “constituent conversations” to hear views about issues.
In addition, new entrepreneurial partnerships were formed, including the life sciences park, which has as its tenant a hospital. And in response to the 2011 Maryland Dream Act, the board passed a resolution asserting its commitment to community college access.
The relationship between the board and the president has built “a strong and durable collaborative spirit that has allowed for significant change and growth at the institution,” Pollard said.
St. Johns River State College (Florida)
An engaged board of trustees is an effective board of trustees, and that is evident at St. Johns River State College (SJRSC). When Joe Pickens began his presidency at SJRSC, his vision for the board was to have members fully involved in decision making within the college.
“The members of the board of trustees in Florida are appointed by the state's governor and tasked with a job to do, and it is my desire to have them be truly engaged in the college and making decisions that impact the students and community members that we are charged with serving,” Pickens said.
Substantive training was provided for the board, including new-trustee workshops and a trustee training workshop. The training opportunities have led to an empowered board, one that is “positioned to participate in impacting students and their success,” according to Diane Leone, chair of SJRSC board of trustees.
In recent years, the board has been tasked with examining the viability of SJRSC’s athletics program—something not been addressed for decades—strategic planning, and creating board budget workshops during the annual budget process. Board members also represent the college at community events.
The trustees were heavily involved with moving the college to a baccalaureate-offering institution. From the early stages of examining the possibility of offering bachelor’s degrees, to the subsequent renaming and rebranding efforts, Pickens and the board worked together to ensure a smooth transition.
The strong relationship between the board and Pickens “has strengthened the college and the community and students it serves,” Leone said.
Pickens has the same admiration for Leone and the board members.
“They most definitely support and empower me to serve and advocate for community colleges at both a local, state and national level,” he said.
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges