Santa Rosa Junior College Names Berkeley City College President as New Leader

The next leader of Santa Rosa Junior College will come from the ranks of California’s community college system.

Maria Angélica Garcia, president of Berkeley City College, will take over from outgoing President Frank Chong, who has headed SRJC since 2012 and is retiring this summer, officials announced Tuesday.

Garcia will be the sixth person and — in a double first — the first Latina to serve as the college’s president in its 105-year history. She has headed Berkeley City College, which has a student body of about 7,000 students, since 2020.

In July, she will take over at SRJC, which boasts about 21,300 students.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Garcia to the Santa Rosa Junior College community and look forward to working with her,” said Dorothy Battenfeld, president of the SRJC Board.

Chosen after a nationwide search, Garcia was described in an announcement from the college as: “an equity-minded educational leader who is passionate about issues of access, equity, and student success in higher education. She is known for inclusive and strategic leadership. She believes that community colleges serve as pathways to liberation and upward social mobility for historically minoritized communities.”

Garcia received her doctorate in educational leadership from San Francisco State University, her master’s in social work from San Diego State University and her bachelor’s from Saint Mary’s College of California, where she graduated in 1998.

“I am deeply humbled to be appointed as the next superintendent/president of SRJC and grateful for the Board of Trustees’ trust in my experience, passion for community college education, and commitment to disrupting generational poverty for Sonoma County,” Garcia said in a statement.

“Being a community college educator is my vocation and I’m eager to work in community with classified professionals, faculty, administrators, students, and community members to preserve the legacy and build a sustainable future for SRJC,” she said.

Garcia has pursued institutional reform through apprenticeship programs, dual enrollment, and through community outreach for K-12 students and adult learners, according to the college’s announcement.

While heading Berkeley City College, she led the college through accreditation reaffirmation and fiscal stabilization efforts, as well as its Educational Master Plan process, focusing on the impact a community college has on disrupting generational poverty, upward social mobility, and equitable student outcomes.

Sean Martin, a philosophy instructor and president of the SRJC All Faculty Association, greeted the selection of Garcia warmly.

“We’re impressed with her deep experience as a community college leader and share her commitment to equity and student success at the All Faculty Association. We believe that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions and that union work is equity work,” Martin said. “So we’re excited by the prospect of working with a leader who is committed to building a collaborative relationship with the faculty union.”

Martin said while faculty still have to fully gauge Garcia’s positions regarding college faculty unions, “we do engage with our union colleagues across the state … and typically, if there are grave concerns or worries about someone in this regard, we hear them.

Chong arrived on the SRJC campus, not long after the Great Recession, as the school’s role was shifting from a traditional institution that prepares students for four-year universities to one also focused on meeting the demands of the local workforce.

Businesses were increasingly turning to community colleges to fill workforce needs, and Chong worked closely with business organizations such as the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and the North Bay Leadership Council.

“I see my job as making sure that all students succeed, that they get to reach their ultimate objective, whether it’s to get a certificate in fixing cars or a certificate in working in some of the finest restaurants in Sonoma County, or to transfer to a four-year university, which many of our students do,” Chong told The Press Democrat in 2016.

His tenure at the college had its low moments, perhaps most so during a period of internal discord that led to a 2018 vote of no confidence by the Academic Senate.

Asked to assess Chong’s SRJC presidency from the faculty’s perspective, Martin said: “I think we did work through those difficult times. What I would say is Dr. Chong has served SRJC during really the most difficult times in the institution’s history. The fires. The pandemic. The Great Recession. It’s been a really tough time. And he has led with good humor and he’s never been unwilling to meet and work through our differences.”

The college, under Chong, also saw construction of a new math, science and technology building, computer labs, an overhaul of the athletic fields and completion of an Olympic-size pool, as well as a major renovation of the Burbank Auditorium — all accomplished with funding from a $410 million bond measure passed in 2014.

The college also has purchased the 10-classroom, 9½-acre Southwest Center in Roseland that it has long leased from the Wright Elementary School District. The center provides a variety of English-language, skills training, computer literacy and other classes.

SRJC is also building a 352-bed student residence hall.

Garcia and her wife have two daughters, and also family members who have lived in Santa Rosa for eight years, the college’s announcement said.

Her salary was not immediately available, said Sarah Laggos, SRJC’s interim communications director, because her contract is to be finalized at the board’s May 9 meeting. Chong‘s current salary is $349,392, Laggos said.