Norco launches into presidential search

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Leo Cabral | Viewpoints
By Erik Galicia

Norco College held a president profile focus group Sept. 19, seeking student and faculty input on what the next presidency of the college should look like.

Jose Leyba, a search consultant with the Association of Community College Trustees, documented Norco College’s opportunities, challenges and desired presidential characteristics as described by attendees.

Students expressed the desire for their next president to be involved with students.

“For me, it’s very important to know who that person is,” Norco College student Alan Ruelas said. “He should be involved in extra support in regard to the (Disability Resource Center), the Unity Zone, the Phoenix Scholars. You know, go far beyond just meetings and things of that nature.”

Ashley Calderon, also a student at Norco College, echoed the desire for the next president to be “visible,” and to “emulate” the connection former President Bryan Reece had with students.

Members of the administration expressed the need for practicality and strategy. 

“Four years ago we asked for a president that is very entrepreneurial,” Kevin Fleming, interim vice president of strategic development at Norco College, said. “We got that. I don’t know if that’s actually what we need at Norco College … I think we need to amend that to somebody who can implement a … shared vision that’s already been documented and coalesced by both the district and the college.” 

Interim President Monica Green, who stepped in a few weeks after the controversial firing of Reece in June, commented on Norco College’s “human capital” being an asset for opportunity. She suggested the next president be someone that “supports the entire community and helps to foster the growth of our employees.”

Green also commented on the need to take Guided Pathways, the new system for mapping the educational path of community college students, into consideration during the presidential search.

“We are very engaged in becoming a Guided Pathways institution,” Green said. “(The next president) should be able to support the full reorganization of our institution around the new design for our students.”

The interim president went on to say that Norco College should continue to work on the relationships it has built with the surrounding community in order to be able “to leverage those resources that are out there.”

Ruth Jones-Santos, the Phoenix Scholars success coach at Norco College, agreed that the maintenance of the recent bridges Norco College has established should be a top priority.

The success coach, who has been with Norco College for 10 years, argues that the college has not had a strong connection with the community in the past.

“There was Norco, and we were just that college that happened to be in Norco,” Jones-Santos said. “Under President Reece, those bridges were built. It’s important for our next president to continue that.”  

Samuel Lee, vice president of academic affairs at Norco College, recommended that the next president be someone who is receptive to the ideas of his or her colleagues.

“If we look for someone who has a … mind of their own and comes in with an agenda of their own, it could be a problem,” Lee said.

Lee also suggested that the future president have experience in participatory government, be responsible for the students’ post-Norco College paths and work to improve counseling services at the college.

Among other suggestions was that the next president have experience with the state funding formula and student success initiatives, much of which may be unique to California.

Attendees shared a consensual concern that the surrounding area still has a lack of awareness about Norco College. They expressed that the growth of the region is both an opportunity and a challenge that the college will face in the next five years. 

Dennis Brandt, a member of the Board of Directors of the Riverside Community College District, argued that the Corona-Norco area is a unique area that the next president is going to have to keep up with.

“I’ve watched the growth,” Brandt said. “Hopefully the next president will do their research into the area. The regional issues that encompass it. The different cultures. 

“From the foundation aspect, you know, getting scholarships, fundraising, we have our issues that we need to deal with.”

Several attendees called for a president that will work toward the growth of the Norco College “brand,” campus and its facilities through regional bond measures.

Eric Betancourt, veteran services specialist at Norco College, reminded the focus group of the popular projects previously sought out by Reece.

“Our previous president had some pretty big initiatives,” Betancourt said. “One of them was veterans housing. The next president should take that into account.”

Norco College students and faculty have been advocating for housing for homeless veterans and students who have been through the foster care system for at least several months. They report that numerous students have slept in their cars in the campus parking lot because of housing insecurity.

“I would hope that the successful candidate … has the ability to understand that Norco College may have specific needs,” Terri Hampton, the district’s vice chancellor of human resources and employee relations, said. “Those needs may or may not align 100% with the way things are done at one of our other colleges. I hope the individual would reach out to the resources that are available … in order to ensure that the needs of Norco College are met in a way that complies with our policies and procedures.”

Norco College Library Services instructor Celia Brockenbrough requested that the presidential search “extend a wide enough net” to make sure the next president is chosen from a pool that reflects diversity.

The Association of Community College Trustees, which is assisting the district with the presidential search, will use surveys and the information gathered during the forum to create a presidential profile for applicants.

Leyba announced that a website that reports the stages and progress of the search will be available in two to three weeks.

District Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac has announced the district plans to conclude the search by December and present its decision to the Board of Trustees for a vote in January.

If approved by the board, the new president would start in the Spring of 2020.

More information will follow.   

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