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College president must reset local connections

People here in East County tend to land in one of two camps in regard to former Mt. Hood Community College President John “Ski” Sygielski: You were sad to see him leave; or you couldn’t wait for the door to hit him on the way out.

But that was two years ago.

Then came the leadership of Interim President Michael Hay, who largely kept the ship afloat while the college board went through the process of selecting a permanent president.

In the intervening months — it will be two years in July — Mt. Hood Community College has really done little more than sail in circles.

And so, as Debra Derr plans to assume command of this ship on July 1 — beginning her tenure as the 10th president of MHCC — she does so with the knowledge that the community has been more than patient as it waited for this moment for a long, long time.

The college’s half-hearted attention to the community and its facilities has been apparent, even if somewhat understandable given the churn of leadership in the top administrative position.

Among the first duties Derr should undertake is a full-out effort to reconnect the college to the community — students and supporters, as well as the major employers that depend on the school for a well-trained work force.

Along those same lines, Derr will need to strengthen MHCC’s partnerships with other institutions, such as public schools, colleges and universities.

We are optimistic about what we’re hearing from Derr. (Check out our front page story in today’s edition, where she sat down with Outlook Reporter Lisa K. Anderson.)

Derr told Anderson that she sees her new role as being a facilitator who will look at the priorities for the community and students and move that direction forward in a positive way.

We also are mindful that Derr has a full slate of “must-dos” ahead of her.

Among them, she’ll need to be a leader in the search for answers to the school’s aging — and often subpar — facilities.

Some people have said a bond measure is almost a certainty for the college in the near future.

We also are hopeful that Derr will consistently advance the school’s education opportunities even as state funding declines.

In that same vein, Derr will need to carry on contract negotiations with faculty and staff in ways that maintain personal dignity for everyone involved; but also in a way that demonstrates the need for shared sacrifices and lower expenses, given the financial realities.

And finally — and this one is hardest to forecast — we hope Derr is in this for the long haul; that MHCC won’t be a temporary stop on the way to the job she really wants. Two years won’t cut it.

In the early going, Derr sounds like a perfect fit for MHCC and East County. We look forward to the advancements she will bring to the school in the near and far future.



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