New head of Montgomery College fell in love' with school
Pollard favors open lines of communication
When DeRionne P. Pollard was a teenager growing up in Chicago, she thought she would someday be an attorney. It seemed to "represent something" for her.
But, that was before she enrolled at Iowa State University and began taking English classes. That's when Pollard said she "fell in love with college."
On May 18, the Montgomery College Board of Trustees named Pollard the ninth president in the community college's 64-year history. Under a five-year contract, Pollard, who starts Aug. 2, will earn $250,000 a year, according to Montgomery College information.
Pollard, 39, was hired from Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., where she will remain president until June 30.
Pollard can pinpoint the exact moment she decided to drop her dreams of being an attorney. While at Iowa State, she saw political activist Angela Davis give a lecture so powerful that some faculty members and graduate students held impromptu debates about the topic.
"I wanted to be an intellectual," Pollard told The Gazette during a recent interview. "I knew that education meant the ability to change the world. I got into it, and I never left."
Pollard is coming to Montgomery College the largest community college in Maryland during uncertain economic times.
In March, County Executive Isiah Leggett proposed giving the college $13 million less than the school had requested. As a result, the college's trustees raised tuition for next school year.
Last week, the County Council agreed to restore $4.4 million to Montgomery College's fiscal 2011 spending plan and approve the college's proposed renovations to its science building.
The extra money will allow the community college to hire science, English, psychology and language professors, according to school officials.
Pollard is no stranger to financial uncertainty. This fiscal year, officials at Las Positas had to cut 10 percent of the operating budget, and they anticipate more cuts next fiscal year. To limit the impact of budget cuts on the college, it's important to "ensure the pain is spread across the organization," Pollard said. "You don't want one entity burdened by it."
Montgomery College interim President Hercules Pinkney said Monday that he would work directly with Pollard during her first month while she transitions into the new job.
As for the school's budget, Pollard is getting plenty of help. "We at the college try to plan for our budgets in the out-years, so we're already planning for potential cuts," Pinkney said. "She won't have to start from scratch when she comes in."
After Pollard's first month on the job, Pinkney said he plans to recede into background, only helping out if his assistance is needed. While he plans to remain in the county, Pinkney said he will not be available on a full-time basis.
In applying for the Montgomery College position, Pollard said she realized the college recently has been through difficult times. In September, the college's board of trustees put its then-president Brian K. Johnson on administrative leave with pay. Johnson eventually resigned the position.
In the months leading up to the vote, the college's full-time faculty gave Johnson a vote of "no confidence" for a perceived lack of leadership. The faculty also criticized him for not attending high-powered functions with state and county leaders.
At her current job in California, Pollard holds informal monthly meetings with faculty, students and staff members to tell them what initiatives she has planned. The meetings, Pollard said, also are intended to keep the lines of communication open on the campus and address any rumors that might surface.
"People need to see you, and people need to be able to have access to you," she said.
"If the organization is to be successful, then each employee has to be successful."
Pollard began working at community colleges in 1995, as a faculty member in the College of Lake County's English department. There, she taught classes in developmental reading, college composition, minority literature and early American literature. Ten years later, Pollard was named the college's vice president of educational affairs.
In 2008, Pollard became the first black president of Las Positas College. She has been appointed to the Community College League of California's Commission on the Future and is a member of the Presidents' Round Table of the National Council on Black American Affairs.