By Joyce Flores
District employees met Feb. 8 for a lively discussion on the role of employees on student success.
The meeting, which originally was scheduled for the Heritage Room at St. Philip’s College, was moved to a conference room at the Radisson Hotel, 502 W. Durango.
Adriana Contreras, deputy to the chancellor, said the meeting had to be moved because the Heritage Room only seats 200 and the Radisson Hotel could seat 300 people.
Sally Espinoza, administrative secretary to the chancellor, said 320 full-time district noncollege employees attended the meeting.
Chancellor Bruce Leslie started the meeting by having everyone stand up, turn to the right and pat each other on the back to celebrate one another.
“Sometimes, if we don’t thank ourselves, no one will,” he added.
He told the crowd it was important for them to get together to reiterate how much they were appreciated by the administration.
“We cannot make this the institution that we want it to be unless we celebrate what we do,” Leslie said.
He told employees that what he hoped they would get out of the meeting was the important role they play in student success. That they do not see students on a regular basis does not mean they don’t have a vital part in student success.
To break the ice, the chancellor had everyone break into groups to play a game called two truths and a lie. Each group must identify two extraordinary truths and come up with one lie. The group then reports what they have come up with and the other groups must identify the lie.
One group said one person from their group had been a migrant worker in the 1960s and now had a son who had graduated from Princeton, one was diagnosed with three kidneys and one had been to the southern tip of Africa.
The three kidneys was the lie.
In most cases the audience was correct, except when one group claimed that one of their members was married at 15 years old, one of them was separated by 15 years from her mother and daughter and one had been scuba diving with Dr. Richard Drumm, the interim associate vice chancellor of employee services. The scuba line met with a roar of laughter.
Everyone, including the chancellor, believed scuba diving was the lie, but they were wrong; no one in their group had been married at 15 .
“Often, it’s those daily kind of human things we don’t address,” Leslie said. “The best places to work for are about that, caring about each other, talking to each other.”
Leslie then moved on to the main topic at hand, the role of the district in student success.
He asked the crowd how it was that district employees helped students. One person from acquisitions and payroll said that the office makes sure faculty gets paid on time. Someone from the print services department said they make sure brochures, syllabuses and tests are printed on time for faculty.
Leslie said these were all important. If faculty didn’t get paid, they wouldn’t teach their students; if syllabuses weren’t printed, students wouldn’t know what to study.
He also said employees were usually the first point of contact when a student is frustrated or needs some direction.
Leslie told the audience that to ensure students succeed, the district must make sure their systems are up-to-date and efficient.
“It is easy to fall in routines that are easy for us, but not for everyone else,” he said.
Leslie told the audience that they must be willing to tell each other if a process is not working because most of the time people are scared of pointing a problem out to the administration. Rather than pointing something out, people prefer to talk among themselves.
The district also must be able to supply students with the latest information technology. He said that $17 million of the $450 million bond that was passed in 2005 was being used on updating the IT systems in the district.
The audience also went over what has changed in San Antonio that affects the district. Some people said the district needs to keep up with changing technology and growth.
In response to growth, the district has added Northeast Lakeview College and will soon add a north central college near Interstate 10 and the Kendall County line.
He said the district also needs to adapt to the globalization of the world by changing the programs that are offered at the district.
“We need to eliminate things that are no longer in demand,” Leslie said, while expanding programs that are in high demand.
He said the district needs to be more flexible and up-to-date because they are now having to compete with for-profit colleges.
“For-profit colleges are setting up shop for everything from nursing to barbershop degrees.”
To compete and keep up, the district has been buying more land and building more buildings. Trustees plan to do more institutional research; using surveying and collecting data analysis to find out what people in Bexar County need.
He also said that to make the district a better place, more staff development needs to be done and that the district needs to support more professional development.
“We’re talking about changing our culture, not about blaming or finding fault,” Leslie said. “It’s about the way the culture has worked in the past. Five separate colleges doing their own thing. There has been no emphasis on collaborating and finding common systems. It makes you do your job five different ways.”
That was met with enthusiastic employee approval.
He went on to add that the colleges are a family and they work better as a system that works collectively. For too long, the colleges have cried independence because they are individually accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Leslie said.
Leslie then held his hand up with his fingers spread apart. He said that that represented the five colleges and how they worked independently.
On the screen he showed a picture of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” presenting his “Live long and prosper” sign.
To wind down the meeting, Leslie reiterated that district employees are crucial to student success and said the goal of the district is “celebrating a more effective, less bureaucratic, personally enjoyable and rewarding environment with greater opportunities for personal and collective growth and success.”
Drumm then stood up and told the crowd about a drum, on which he beats when he wants to celebrate something. He said he was sad that he did not have it with him, but he could do something else.
“I want to celebrate all that each of you do with a drum roll,” he said.
He lay down on the floor and rolled on the carpet.