This message was sent to employees of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District by Chancellor Cindy L. Miles.
June 5, 2013
Our district’s mission statement is “Transforming lives through learning,” and I often hear moving stories about students who confirm that we are succeeding in our mission. As we celebrate more than 1,700 graduates at commencement ceremonies this week, I’d like to tell you about two special students whose lives were transformed because they came to our colleges.
Long before Jamie started at Grossmont College, he was an angry, troubled boy – and many would say rightly so. Because his mother was an alcoholic and drug addict, Jamie was placed into foster care when he was four years old. He suffered physical and sexual abuse in his foster home, but never told social workers because he didn’t want to be removed from the only family he knew. His schooling deteriorated, and he often got into fights. School officials suggested he be placed in special education.
Jamie’s situation worsened when he went to high school. His foster mother developed breast cancer, and his biological mother died. Jamie began experiencing anxiety attacks and had to be hospitalized. He barely made it out of high school.
Then, on the recommendation of his older brother, Jamie attended the Summer Institute at Grossmont College. There he met caring counselors like Michael Perez and Pearl Lopez. They helped Jamie realize that education was his pathway to a better life.
In his first year at Grossmont, Jamie earned mostly B’s in his classes, but Perez urged him to try harder.
“He had a way of believing in me, but having me take responsibility for myself,” Jamie said. “He told me, ‘your grades aren’t bad, but I know you can do better. You can get straight A’s.’ That opened my eyes.”
In his second year at Grossmont, Jamie earned A’s in his classes and became an honors student. He has recently been accepted at University of California at Berkeley, where he’ll be starting in a summer program a few weeks from now after he graduates from Grossmont tonight.
Jamie has a scholarship that pays for his books, tuition, and part of his housing. Communications instructor Tina Perez has set up a fund to help pay Jamie’s other expenses.
“Failure is not an option anymore,” Jamie said. “I’m ready for the journey ahead.”
When Viktoriya started at Cuyamaca College in 2007, the Ukrainian immigrant spoke little English. She had worked as a nurse in the Ukraine, and came to the United States in 2004 to marry a fellow countryman.
Viktoriya said she was extremely nervous when she started college. However, with the support of dedicated Cuyamaca employees like English instructor Tim Pagaard and tutors in the college’s writing center, she advanced from English as a Second Language classes into college-level courses in three semesters, all the while juggling her home life as the mother of a toddler, Kiril, now 7. Two years ago, her second child, Elizabeth, was born.
Viktoriya said she spent hours in the college library trying to read and understand difficult college subjects like biology.
“With a biology tutor’s help and my hard work, I made huge progress in my learning,” she said. “The general biology class for me was like a starting point in being a real student.”
Viktoriya, a science and mathematics major, will be graduating with a 4.0 grade point average and will deliver the valedictory speech at Cuyamaca. She plans to transfer to San Diego State University.
“Cuyamaca College is a place where all professors, tutors, and other educational resources are ready to help everyone to succeed,” she said.
The stories of these two students – and many, many others like them – demonstrate that we have stayed true to our mission despite four years of devastating state budget cuts. I must repeat a heartfelt THANK YOU to all our faculty, staff, and administrators who have worked so hard on behalf of our students through these difficult times.
A glimmer of budgetary hope
Governor Brown’s recent proposed state budget, made possible by voter approval of Proposition 30 last November, shows that he understands the importance of community colleges to California’s future.
Although still under final legislative negotiation, this year’s budget promises good news for our district:
· $1.3 million for restoration of classes
· $1.3 million for COLA (1.57% - the first in 5 years!)
· $800,000 for Student Success Act of 2012 requirements for orientation, assessment, educational planning, counseling, etc.
· Reduction of our state deferral by $3.8 million (not new money, but this means we’ll have better cash flow by getting our payments from the state faster, and won’t have to borrow as much for monthly payroll and operation expenses)
Although this budget allows us to breathe easier for a while, we have a long way to go before we will recover from the losses we’ve endured for the past four years. Nevertheless, we still face the threat from Sacramento of performance funding planned for community college implementation in 2014-15, as well as ongoing volatility in state revenues and legislative demands. Still, it feels better to know the cuts have stopped, and we can begin to rebuild. We’re hiring new faculty and staff, and we’re adding classes – and this feels best of all!
As difficult as the past few years have been for our employees, we must never forget that it’s been even more difficult for our students who were unable to get into the classes they needed and had to delay or give up their dreams of getting an education.
As we celebrate commencement and look toward to brighter days, let me wish each of you a wonderful summer. Please take every chance to refresh and rejuvenate yourself. And, if you ever doubt whether your efforts at this district make a difference, think about Jamie and Viktoriya and the 27,000 other students whose lives we are transforming each year. Continued thanks for all that you do to make their lives, our district, and the world better every day.
Cindy L. Miles, Ph.D.
Chancellor, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District