Delta presidential candidates speak at community forum

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The Delta College community heard from the two finalists for the president/superintendent position at a Monday forum. Brenda Thames and Omid Pourzanjani, who are in the running to replace retiring President/Superintendent Kathy Hart, answered questions submitted by faculty, staff and other members of the campus community in the Tillie Lewis Theatre from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 10.

Each candidate was presented with questions regarding personal qualifications, community engagement, as well as their values and opinions on various bills and programs affecting the community college system.

The first candidate to speak, Thames, was “born and raised here in the Central Valley” and currently serves as president and CEO of West Hills College Coalinga.

“This is home for us,” said Thames. “We love the Central Valley and when the opportunity came to come back home, we were anxious to see if we could actualize that opportunity and return back amongst our friends, neighbors and relatives.”

Thames has earned a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley in sociology and social welfare, two master’s degrees from the University of Southern California in social work and public administration, and is currently a doctoral candidate in education with an emphasis in leadership at Oregon State University.

“The question I always ask myself is — is this good for the students?” said Thames, regarding engagement in the community and on campus.

One of the questions asked was about how Thomas will evaluate effectiveness after her first six months as superintendent.

“We will evaluate my effectiveness together. I am not going to roll in here with my vision, my objectives, my plans on how we’re going to meet those objectives and then ask you all to get on board or get out of the way and then evaluate how I did that,” said Thames. “The first three months of that first six months is going to be spent listening to you.”

For the remainder of her time, Thames provided opinions on LBGT rights, the newly established dream center, important bills such as AB705, and other programs provided at Delta College as well as how she is going to facilitate her role as campus President.

Thames was also asked to give her input on the support of important aspects of the Delta campus such as The Dream Center, Foster Youth Program and LGBT pride/students.

“The support for LGBT students and foster children are veterans undocumented students tell us  about how you would make sure those special populations are getting appropriately treated” said Thames.

“One of my jobs is to make sure that you’re successful — because if you have problems I have problems. So that’s how we’re going to run this,” said Thames. “We’re going to work together to make sure that you’re successful, the senate’s successful and this college is healthy.”

The second candidate to speak, Pourzanjani,came to the United States with his family as a teenager.

After spending about a year in Santa Monica, Pourzanjani said, his parents went back to Iran to sell their belongings before returning to America. However, the 1979 Iranian Revolution broke out and his parents were unable to leave the country, stranding Pourzanjani and his brother in America.

“I was about 15 and a half at the time, and my brother was almost 17, so we had to find jobs and make it work,” Pourzanjani said. “And so I  finished high school, didn’t know where I was going to go so, community colleges actually just should sort of showed up. … I’ve been a product of the community college system.”

Pourzanjani is a California community college graduate, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering as well as a doctorate in education from UCLA.

“I’m very in tune with the challenges students face,” said Pourzanjani.

Pourzanjani was presented with questions ranging from decision making and effectiveness to student and community engagement.

“Transparency in decision making,“ said Pourzanjani when asked how he would improve trust between various groups on campus. “It’s how we build trust.”

“If it’s not clear, if it’s not honest, if it’s not direct, if it doesn’t help the student, if it doesn’t help you come to work and be happy, then that’s not gonna be a decision that comes from me,” he said.

Much of Pourzanjani’s values were focused around closing “equity gaps” in the community college system.

He also gave his opinions on issues relevant to campus, such as LGBT rights snd the planned Dream Center for undocumented students.

“We’re here to educate. We’re not here to judge. We’re not here to exercise biases. We are here to educate,” said Pourzanjani

Pourzanjani also gave his input the effectiveness of programs such as Career Technical Education Guided Pathways.

“The idea behind guided pathways is to create that seamless transition, and if it doesn’t do a good enough job, then we need to do a better job,” said Pourzanjani.

“We are a community college; so we need to be responding to the needs of the of the community,” said Pourzanjani. “We are not training people to leave, we’re training people to stay and serve their community.”

The forum was live streamed on Zoom via a link on the Delta College website and is available for public viewing along with an audio transcript at bit.ly/deltapresident.

The new Delta president will be chosen from the two final candidates over the next few months. Hart is scheduled to retire in September.