California community college president to lead Montgomery College

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DeRionne P. Pollard, a California community college president known for having boundless energy in the face of state budget cuts, was announced Tuesday as the new president of Montgomery College.

Pollard, 39, is the ninth chief executive of Maryland's largest two-year college and the first since the departure in September of Brian K. Johnson. Trustees removed Johnson amid allegations of overspending and lapses in management, an episode that briefly plunged the school into administrative chaos.

In the aftermath, faculty and staff said they were looking for someone to believe in. On Tuesday, trustees gave them Pollard. She gave them a promise.

"You will not find any community college president in the country who is willing to work harder for our students and our community," she said, greeting staff members in an auditorium at the flagship campus in Rockville. She received a standing ovation.

Employees unleashed even louder applause for Hercules Pinkney, the retired administrator who had returned as interim president and guided the college through a comparatively peaceful and productive academic year.

"The past nine months have certainly been a journey for Montgomery College," Pinkney said, speaking before Pollard was introduced. "I can say with more confidence than ever, Montgomery College is strong, Montgomery College is one, Montgomery College is family."

The five-month search for Johnson's permanent successor yielded more than 50 candidates. Pollard's unassuming manner immediately won over the search committee, members said.

"From the moment we interviewed her, we knew that she was one of the finalists," said Janice DuFour, an instructional assistant and one of the panel's 17 members. "She's warm, she's engaging, she just has that type of 'wow' personality."

Pollard was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. Her mother died when Pollard was 4, and she was raised chiefly by her father, who devised her first name (pronounced Dear-E-uhn).

"Education was highly valued in my family," Pollard, the elder of two daughters in a household that prized books over television, said in an interview. She received bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Iowa State University and a doctorate in higher education leadership from Loyola University on Chicago's North Side.

Pollard started work as an assistant English professor in 1995 at the College of Lake County in the Chicago suburbs, teaching composition and courses on major American writers and women in literature. By her third year in the profession, she was taking on an administrative role in a professional development program. She became vice president and chief academic officer there.

In 2008, Pollard assumed the presidency of Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., near San Francisco. Under her tenure, the school experienced rising enrollment and declining funds, and California's community college system took $520 million in cuts in the 2009-10 academic year amid a statewide fiscal meltdown.

Pollard greeted austerity with enthusiasm, helping to create "a hard-working, optimistic culture" across the campus of nearly 10,000 students, said Sarah Thompson, president of the Academic Senate at Las Positas.

"I think she grew a lot here, and very quickly," Thompson said. "She's a phenomenal woman, and as she gains more experience, she's just [going to be] a force."

Pollard, who signed a five-year contract Tuesday, will start work at Montgomery College in August at a salary of $250,000. She said that her goal will be to make it the nation's most "relevant" community college and that she will look to successful nonprofit and for-profit models for ways to offer students the most useful courses -- at times and in places that suit their needs.

She said she hopes to grow deep roots in the county with her longtime partner, Robyn Jones, and their 3-year-old son, Myles.

"I know that I will be at home here," she told the faculty and staff, "and I thank you for that."

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