BCCC aims to polish image

New president sees improved ties with city schools, strong faculty as priorities

November 09, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun Reporter

Baltimore City Community College's recently appointed president announced yesterday that she is taking steps to rebuild the school's reputation after a four-year period during which campus officials were criticized for abysmal graduation rates, lackluster leadership and poor administrative oversight.

President Carolane Williams, who was selected to head the state-funded school about four months ago, said she is eager to reposition BCCC, which enrolls about 19,000 credit and noncredit students, most of whom are graduates of Baltimore's public school system.

Williams, the former provost of Broward Community College's North Campus in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she supports BCCC's five-year strategic plan, which was created before her arrival, and that she has met with many members of the city's business and education communities to strengthen old relationships and build new ones.

"I am pleased to be here and to be moving forward," said Williams at a morning news briefing that was called in part to generate positive news about the college, which opened in 1947 in City College. Today, BCCC has several campuses, including one at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, as well as 80 off-campus learning sites at churches and community centers.

The school, with an annual budget of $85 million, will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year with several galas, including the official inauguration of Williams as the institution's first female president.

Williams' early efforts have paid off. Yesterday afternoon the new president signed an articulation agreement with city schools Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston that Williams said will help the two systems coordinate classwork and requirements for students interested in technical fields, including construction, hospitality, computer programming and law enforcement.

The two education systems had worked together in the past, but the relationship had weakened to the point where there was virtually no coordination, according to those with firsthand knowledge. Improving communication with the city school system is also one of the many goals included in the college's 2005-2010 strategic plan, which was created with input from a wide spectrum of community members, according to college officials.

"This is a new day," said Williams, who also plans to reorganize BCCC's administrative offices, including the creation of at least two new departments, one of which will focus solely on faculty development and teaching excellence.

"We're all pretty excited," said Board of Trustees Chairman Garland Williamson, who attended the news briefing with several administrators and the head of the faculty senate, a group that was critical of BCCC's past president.

Three years ago, faculty members sent a petition to trustees registering their discontent with former President Sylvester E. McKay, who was hired in 2002 to improve the school's academic performance.

McKay resigned in 2004 not long after a report by the Abell Foundation outlined a litany of failures, including the expenditure of nearly $700,000 for a new computer program to help improve students' math skills with no assessment of its effectiveness. A 2002 Abell report highlighted students' low graduation rate and their remediation needs.

"We've had some challenges at this institution with leadership," said Williamson, who also placed some blame on the board of trustees, which he said had not been proactive enough in the past. But he said the board is pleased with Williams and excited about the future.

Williams said that one of the people she wanted to meet when she came to Baltimore was Robert C. Embry Jr., head of the Abell Foundation, which wrote two critical reports on the college.

The meeting took place last week, according to Bonnie Legro, the foundation's senior program officer for education. Legro said the foundation was committed to working with BCCC and that some grants could be made available to the campus for new programs and initiatives.

"We feel that BCCC is a gold mine and that it is untapped in a lot of ways in terms of being the open-door access to our work force," said Legro.

Helping BCCC students graduate in a timely manner so they can continue their education or begin new careers will be a priority at the college, Williams said. Still, she cautioned that it would be unfair to create unrealistic graduation deadlines for students, many of whom have families and work full time. Williams said it is also unfair to hold BCCC to the same graduation standards as the University System of Maryland, which can reject students who don't test well on the SAT.

"We want students to be successful," said Williams. "We want to keep them on the right path. As long as they keep making progress, we consider that success."

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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