Making curriculum changes in a way to meet the needs of a variety of students seems to be one of the major issues for those seeking positions on the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees.
The four candidates — J. Samuel Diaz, incumbent Richard Holober, Thomas Mohr and George Yang — visited the Daily Journal office last week for an endorsement interview meeting. Controversy surrounding the community college accreditation committee and how that may affect the district’s own accreditation review this fall, innovating courses and balancing the needs of lifelong learners and UC/CSU track students are among the district’s top issues, the candidates said.
Pairing schools with Silicon Valley business leaders, along with recording and televising classes, was one of Diaz’s ideas. He noted that Santa Clara County did a good job in the past of taking on an innovative role when handling education.
Yang would like to see entrepreneurial teams, express public transportation options for students and an expanded international exchange program. Mohr added that he’d like to see more satellite schools in places like East Palo Alto.
“I’ll give you a kung fu analogy,” Yang said. “You have to have a strong stance with nimble hands. That’s how you can meet your needs, with a strong foundation.”
With budget cuts, the district began cutting back on classes not in high demand, such as ones teaching 1970s technology, Holober said. Yang added that he thinks it would be good to cut some classes that are also offered at community or recreation centers.
“We need to look at classes to see if they’re useful,” Yang. “We shouldn’t be subsidizing people who are well-to-do.”
The communication between K-12 schools and colleges was a concern of Mohr’s, who thinks that there needs to be more interconnection between the schools so feeder school teachers know what to teach and students know what to expect in college. Students are not prepared for general education courses at the community college, Mohr said.
“I’ve been the colleges move in a direction I don’t like,” Samuel said. “I see a lot we can improve on. I want to make things work like they did in the ’70s and ’80s. There’s been a decline in the last few years and [the community colleges] have become an obsolete channel.”
Community colleges help you fulfill the American Dream, Holober said.
“The tough years we’ve been through have really been the test,” Holober said.
Yang noted that he moved to the United States at the age of 15, knowing very little English and that he is very adaptive, bringing new perspectives to the board.
Mohr said there was some irony when the conversation turned to the replacement of Helen Hausman, who recently retired from her trustee post. Mohr was one of the candidates to take over her job last spring, but the board ultimately decided to wait until the election to replace her. Mohr said he heard he did a great job as president of Cañada College but that there was a need for more distance from the district. It came down to a lack of diversity in the replacement options, Holober said.
In terms of the district’s upcoming accreditation, Holober said that the district has poured countless hours into preparing for the audit, doting every “i” and crossing every “t.” The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has recently been under scrutiny for revoking the accreditation of San Francisco’s community college, a sanction which could force California’s largest school to close.
“It’s a real problem if you compare the commission’s sanctions to other region’s commission’s sanctions,” Holober said. “Something is clearly out of whack ... since it put 60 percent of colleges on sanctions since the late 2000s, while other regions only have 1 to 2 percent of their colleges on sanctions. There’s no accountability; they ordered everyone to tear up their notes.”
Mohr agreed that there has been a dramatic change in the philosophy and leadership in the agency in a short period of time. He said that there needed to be a severe warning for the college’s flaws, but that revoking the accreditation went too far.
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