The next chancellor of the State Center Community College District will be a first-generation college student with lengthy experience in community college systems in California and around the nation.
The State Center community on Monday afternoon saw the three finalists answer a series of questions during one-hour Zoom forums.
The candidates are Dr. Carole Goldsmith, president of Fresno City College; Dr. Beatriz Espinoza, who is working at Laredo Community College in Texas as a consultant on a National Science Foundation grant; and Dr. Omid Pourzanjani, former superintendent/president of San Joaquin Delta Community College District in Stockton.
Dr. Ben Duran, president of PPL Inc., which conducted the search for the new chancellor, was the forum moderator and asked the candidates about topics such as distance education, centralized control versus independence for the district’s colleges, and anti-racism efforts.
Duran, the superintendent/president of the Merced Community College District, reminded those watching the forums to use this link to provide feedback to the Board of Trustees about the candidates. The deadline to respond to the survey is 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The State Center board of trustees has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday morning, and the only item on the agenda is the appointment of a new chancellor. The board will deliberate during a closed session.
District spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz said Tuesday that the appointment is expected to be announced at the December board meeting.
The trustees are seeking a new chancellor to succeed former Chancellor Paul Parnell, who retired in July.
Watch: State Center CCD Chancellor Finalists Open Forum
Espinoza Blames ‘Disrupters’
The forum kicked off with Espinoza, who on several occasions addressed her “separation” from Coastal Bend College in Beeville, Texas. News outlets reported in 2019 that Espinoza was put on administrative leave and was to be terminated based on a 4-3 trustee vote after administrators at the college were accused of fraud and coercion. She agreed to resign several months later.
Espinoza said that contrary to the news reports there was no wrongdoing. Her leadership was undermined by “disrupters” who made a lot of noise, she said.
“Here’s the raw truth: I’m a Hispanic, a Latina with a strong work ethic. I live and work by the highest standards of integrity and an unwavering commitment to student success. I’m a lifelong learning and choose continuous improvement, and unfortunately, in this day, still a perfect target for those wishing to express racial and gender frustrations at diverse leadership. That is why I remain committed to doing my part in helping more students of all backgrounds achieve success. …
“Why did I separate from CBC? It wasn’t the public noise, it was that the discussion was no longer about serving our students or district or a diverse community.”
In Texas, all educational agencies from kindergarten through graduate school are lumped under one state agency, a system that tends to reward larger institutions and leave “scraps” for smaller institutions like Coastal Bend College, Espinoza said. By contrast, California’s 116 community colleges have a chancellor and a board of trustees advocating for them in Sacramento.
But State Center Community College District’s profile needs to be raised, Espinoza said.
“I was looking at this position and I called some folks that I know that are still here in California and asked them what thought. ‘Where’s State Center? Where’s it at?’
“OK, that’s not good. It’s a huge district. It should be easy to know where State Center is, where we’re at, what we’re doing, our success stories.”
Espinoza said her background as a migrant farmworker who was not expected to graduate from high school, let alone attend college and earn her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees helps her connect to the many State Center students who also are first-generation college students from impoverished backgrounds. In addition, State Center needs to support and mentor staffers who are the first in their families to be employed by a college, she said.
Pourzanjani’s ‘Elephant in the Room’
Espinoza was followed by Pourzanjani, who almost immediately brought up why he is no longer superintendent/president of San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Calling it the “elephant in the room,” Pourzanjani said the college was struggling with labor issues, outdated computer software, and a pending accreditation review when he arrived in 2019.
Those issues were sorted and the college even had new labor contracts negotiated subsequently. But with growing friction among trustees that “started to reflect on me,” combined with talk about a new bond measure, Pourzanjani said he told the trustees the college would be better served by a new CEO. He is on paid administrative leave through next June.
In response to questions about how he would lead State Center as chancellor, Pourzanjani brought up his leadership initiatives at Delta College, which included the 1,000 Internship Initiatives. Delta College committed $2 million, which was matched by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, to underwrite 12-week paid internships with local business partners. Students get job training and experience, and employers get to meet and help train potential employees, Pourzanjani said.
He talked about how his own experience as a first-generation college student gives him insight into what many students face today. After he graduated from high school, Pourzanjani said he was talking with a friend about where he wanted to go to college. UCLA was high profile and nearby, and he figured he could just walk in at the start of the next semester and enroll — not realizing that colleges have admission policies, and also are expensive. He wound up getting his first degree at Santa Monica College. He did finally attend UCLA, where he earned his doctorate in education.
The Insider’s Perspective From Goldsmith
The final candidate was Goldsmith, who noted that her five years as Fresno City College president gave her an insider’s view of the district’s operations.
“Being an internal candidate, I have a sense of the process that we have, how we do business here, and I also have a deep understanding of the challenges that we face,” she said. “Being a Valley native, I have an understanding and a love for this community, and I know that the communities we serve are rich in cultural history.
“And yet for far too long, our communities continue to struggle with economic disparities, access to housing, health care, broadband and yes, even education.”
Goldsmith appeared in her Fresno City office, her commencement regalia hanging on a wall behind her. By contrast, Espinoza and Pourzanjani were in a gray conference room during their one-hour forums.
In addition to the questions posed to all three candidates, Duran directed a few specifically to Goldsmith about how she would decrease the “us versus them” sentiment among staffers at the district and the colleges, and also whether the chancellor and district should have more of a role in college accreditations.
Staffers will need to learn to trust each other, but that’s going to take “hard work,” Goldsmith said.
As for the accreditations, the last one included an improvement recommendation on committee work governance, she said.
The chancellor and district need to make sure the colleges have the resources and tools they need, and that “communication is circular, not just one way,” Goldsmith said. “So we’re going to have to tackle that. And I think we’re on the precipice of doing some really great work in that space.”
She closed by talking about how education has shaped her career and her life.
“If I’m selected, I will tell you this will be the highest honor of my life. And to think that a kid, a first generation kid who had a learning disability, first one in her family to go to college despite being kicked out when I was in high school for being gay, got saved by a college education. To be able to serve one of the most diverse and beautiful districts says a lot about the power of community colleges. I know why we do this work. I’m a living example of why we do this work.”