Search for Highline CC president inches toward the finish line

Dr. Jack Bermingham, Highline Community College interim president, speaks April 25 at a community forum, explaining why he wishes to become the college’s next president. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Dr. Jack Bermingham, Highline Community College interim president, speaks April 25 at a community forum, explaining why he wishes to become the college’s next president.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

t Five finalists vie for top job;

selection will be made this month

It is out with the old and in with the new for Highline Community College, which is preparing to conclude its search for a president.

Highline Community College Board of Trustees terminated its contract with former president Dr. Priscilla Bell in fall 2006 due to “philosophical differences,” said Lisa Skari, Highline vice president of institutional advancement.

In mid-May, the board will choose a replacement for Bell and interim president Jack Bermingham.

“We are really looking for someone who is committed to student success and academic excellence,” Skari said.

The search for a new leader has attracted candidates from across the country. The winning applicant will represent the school — lobbying for funding and programs, while also encouraging and supporting diversity.

The next Highline president will have experience or a plan for working with a diverse population, Skari said.

A quarter of Highline’s approximately 9,500 students are immigrants or refugees, she said. The school also attracts a large number of adult students seeking basic education programs, Skari said.

The future president must embrace multiculturalism, Skari said.

“Highline has been very successful in international partnerships and the business community,” Skari said. “Our collective goal is (to find) someone that can further enhance these programs.”

Interim president Bermingham said he has tried hard since his appointment in 2006 to build relationships with students, faculty, staff and the community. Consistent efforts to bridge cultures and teach students job skills is a necessity for a president, Bermingham said.

The next leader will need to seek more funding and resources for the school, he said. Bermingham is one of five final applicants for the job of Highline president. Each of the candidates could bring value to the campus.

Meet the candidates

• Dr. Thom M. Armstrong, former president of Copper Mountain College, Joshua Tree, Calif.: Armstrong served as president of Copper Mountain College from 2004 to 2007. He has served in the education field since 1984. Armstrong is no stranger to building relationships, growing enrollment and managing a budget, he said.

“I’m not afraid to meet people, not afraid to ask them for money,” Armstrong said.

He avoids micromanagement and trusts his staff to perform jobs competently so that together, he and staff can build a stronger college and pursue resources, he said.

• Dr. John Garmon, vice president of academic affairs at New Mexico State University, Carlsbad, N.M.: Garmon served four years in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and went on to serve as vice president of academic affairs at two community colleges, and dean of students at two community colleges. Garmon presided as president of Vista Community College, Berkeley, Calif., from 2001 to 2004.

He was a first-generation, high-risk community college student and took several years to complete his schooling, he said. Garmon recognizes the importance of higher education and providing Highline’s student population with ample opportunities to pursue education, despite their income level.

“A community college president has to be very attuned to the community the college is serving and the uniqueness of the student body,” Garmon said. “I’m really impressed by the diversity and would want to continue to build on that.”

• Randall C. Lawrence, vice president for instruction of Olympic College, Bremerton, Wash.: Lawrence has a strong background in music composition and education. He has been employed with Olympic College in Bremerton since 1987, and currently serves as the college’s interim vice president of instruction. He has held this title since 2003.

•?Dr. Julie Leidig, vice president and chief academic officer of Montgomery College, Houston: Leidig’s passion for teaching arose from a five-year stay in Tokyo, where she taught English, in the 1980s. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Syracuse University as well as graduate degrees in foreign language education, adult education and human resource development and educational administration/community college leadership.

She currently serves as vice president for instruction at Lone Star College–Montgomery, formerly Montgomery College of the North Harris Montgomery Community College District.

• Dr. Jack Bermingham, current Highline interim president: Bermingham has been employed with Highline since 1994. His leadership in diversity in curriculum and cultural awareness earned him the Washington Education Association’s 2001 Human and Civil Rights Award. Bermingham’s work in International Education earned him recognition through the Dr. Werner Kubsch Award in 2005.

“It’s important for whoever the president is to be visible on this campus and present in this community,” Bermingham said.

Final selection:

Each of the applicants were interviewed by Highline faculty, students, staff and board members, Skari said. They also spoke individually at public forums in late April and early May.

The Highline Board of Trustees requested all those in attendance submit feedback on the applicants. The board will read each comment prior to making its final selection mid-May, Skari said. Negotiations will then determine when the new president will begin his or her duties.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.

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