In a unanimous vote, the Alamo Colleges board of trustees named Palo Alto College President Mike Flores as the next chancellor for San Antonio’s community college system.
For the last six years, Flores has served as president of the district’s Southside Palo Alto College campus. When trustees voted to approve Flores at their March 3 meeting, guests and supporters from Flores’ family and staff packed the room to cheer on the district’s first-ever Hispanic chancellor.
Flores will take on his new role following the retirement of current Chancellor Bruce Leslie on Sept. 30.
Following the vote, Flores sat down with the Rivard Report to speak about immediate next steps and his vision for Alamo Colleges in the coming years. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rivard Report: Is there a plan to find your successor as Palo Alto College’s next president?
Mike Flores: Two things we are doing both at the district level for Alamo Colleges and Palo Alto College – we are preparing transition plans. What that does is … illustrate and make clear to everybody the on-boarding and off-boarding. I’ll be off-boarding from [Palo Alto] to transition as chancellor for Alamo Colleges. We’ve been meeting over the last couple weeks to illustrate what that roadmap looks like, detailing all of the specific initiatives and then which vice president, dean, or faculty member is going to champion those in the transition phase.
That should be finalized within the next week or so and should be available to the whole campus community … We anticipate also being able to come out with information regarding the presidential search within the next couple weeks.
I think the intent would be that the candidate would start by Sept. 1, the start of the academic year, at the same time I’m transitioning to the role of chancellor.
RR: What are your on-boarding plans?
MF: There is a series of conversations and meetings we are having and start[ing] over the next few weeks to really detail that on-boarding process with the transition plan. There are parallel things we are doing at [Palo Alto College] and at Alamo Colleges District so that it is clear for both of the principals – as I am coming in, Dr. Leslie is transitioning – and also for the cabinet.
We are a big organization so we want to provide continuity for everybody within the organization.
RR: The search process and the 21-day period following it was criticized as lacking transparency. How will you ensure transparency as the new chancellor?
MF: I was an applicant in this process, so I have it from a different vantage point. And I think what has been very nice is: one, that individuals know that during the 21 days, they were able to reach out to any of the board members. They were also able to reach out to me if they had any questions, via email or phone.
We kicked off a series of conversations and town halls last Thursday at [San Antonio College], which will go [on] throughout the Alamo Colleges. And during that time, if you have any comments, any questions, any concerns, feel free to reach out to board members. Reach out to Dr. Katz as the chair. Reach out to myself. We want to be of service and provide any feedback that is necessary.
The chancellor’s town hall series [is] an opportunity to engage with stakeholders. [Last week’s event] was the first of five more over the next few months. Then there [will be] a series of meet and greets that will be held after today, six of them, one at each of the colleges and one for district employees. They will be [held in the] afternoon from 4-6 p.m., so it is able to promote both faculty and staff and students on campus, as well as individuals that want to come from work to one of the meet and greets. That schedule will be released soon as well.
(The Alamo Colleges denied the Rivard Report’s repeated requests for interviews with Flores during the 21-day waiting period, at the beginning of which Board President Yvonne Katz announced Flores would use the time to get to know the community through a series of meet-and-greets. None of these proposed meetings were held.)
RR: As the first Hispanic chancellor for Alamo Colleges, what do you think your background brings to this role?
MF: Two things: one, I think it is definitely notable that I am the first Hispanic or Mexican-American chancellor. What is also very important is that I am the first person hired internally to be chancellor. I think that speaks very highly of the talent that we have within the Alamo Colleges – faculty and staff and of course students who are able to compete for a role such as the chancellor’s position and nationally for positions. And we see that because we are both a high-performing and an award-winning organization.
So, I think both of those things are very important. I’m from San Antonio. I believe I have a sense and an understanding of the community. I’m active in different civic groups as part of that – both myself and my wife.
The other is that although I’ve been within the district for 19 years, I’ve also been involved in national student success initiatives. It is the best of both worlds, a nice juxtaposition between understanding the community but also understanding the national conversation about student success and higher education. Having served as what is called the “coach” for Achieving the Dream, a national student success movement with [community colleges], and having presented nationally as well, and having served in various capacities on national boards on Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities … I think all of that provides a context [for] both my history but also involvement in national organizations and conversations about what is needed to move Alamo Colleges forward and to the next decade.
RR: What do you think is the role of the community college in San Antonio and in the national context?
MF: I think two things, and we have seen information related to this. One is our focus on providing a low-cost, high-quality undergraduate education. That is paramount to ensuring that students, if they are going to pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher, can do that.
The other is what I mentioned related to workforce development strategies. We also know that many students have a passion to pursue a career as a nurse, they would like to go into advanced manufacturing, they would like to go into [information technology], they are interested in financial services or in STEM. All of those are high-demand, high-wage economic sectors that will serve our students well. Those are also linked to the economic development strategy for the city and for the county, and business and industry has supported that agenda.
RR: What is the role of the chancellor in carrying out the work of a community college district in five individual colleges?
MF: We are five colleges in one system. It is a blend of utilizing the talents of the faculty and staff with their college leadership to serve their diverse communities – All of us, the five presidents with the five vice chancellors and the chancellor, working in tandem to ensure that each student regardless of college or center has an equal educational experience.
The role of the chancellor is to ensure that we are providing equal opportunity for each one of our students at each college and at each regional center. The role of the chancellor is to ensure that we are engaged with community partners, that we are providing, garnering, and supporting resources for the colleges to support students.
RR: Are there any specific goals you have for your first year as chancellor?
MF: In that first year, [my goal] is really broad engagement of stakeholders, throughout the system. There are several thousand talented faculty and staff [and] close to 100,000 students. [I want] to do that in various forums: large groups, small groups, faculty senate, student government associations, staff senate groups, externally with chambers of commerce [and] community-based organizations like C.O.P.S. Metro Alliance.
I think it is important for us to amplify our community outreach strategies – each of the college presidents, each of the vice chancellors, the chancellor, and the board has been doing for some time. It is incumbent upon us as a leadership team to do that as well, and engage more intently. This year is about a high level of engagement with internal stakeholders and to be able to co-create a plan to move us forward in achieving the vision of being the best in the nation in student success and performance excellence and also engaging external stakeholders to ensure that we are on the right path.