It was supposed to be about developing the leaders of tomorrow. That was the intent when the San Diego Community College District laid the groundwork for a series of Leadership Academies serving faculty, staff, and administrators in 2009. The academies, however, have been building more than leaders. The program also has helped hundreds of employees—ranging from groundskeepers to academic department heads—network with each other and build lasting working relationships in a sprawling district that includes three college campuses and San Diego Continuing Education, as well as support services and district headquarters.

They have opened silos and exposed staff members to how other departments operate, the challenges they confront, and the solutions they discover. The result: Employees at the San Diego Community College District have become an even stronger family. 

SDCCD Leadership Academies serve faculty, staff, and administrators across the district.

The Leadership Academy series—which includes the Management Leadership Development Academy, the Supervisory Leadership Development Academy, the Classified Leadership Development Academy, and the Faculty Leadership Development Academy—is a key element in the district’s expansive Professional Development Program. Leadership development has long been a top priority of the district’s Board of Trustees, and district Chancellor Constance M. Carroll spearheaded the program to meet the district’s strategic plan goal of establishing professional development opportunities and resources to anyone interested in building leadership skills, taking on a committee assignment, or embarking on a management trajectory.

More than 475 participants have taken part in the Leadership Academies since the fall of 2009, and many more employees have participated in the independent workshops, seminars, mentorship program, and other features within the overall Professional Development Program.

“The San Diego Community College District’s Professional Development Program is designed to build the leadership skills and capabilities of the San Diego Community College District management, faculty, and staff, as part of a succession planning model,” Chancellor Carroll said. “A steadily growing network of Leadership Academy graduates has demonstrated the success of this program, which has provided them with both techniques for working efficiently and effectively, as well as being able to relate to all levels of staff in a collegial and productive manner.”

Building Tomorrow’s Leaders

The Classified Leadership Development Academy has sparked intense interest, largely due to the wide array of participants. The 27 participants in the class of 2016 included dispatchers with the college police department, a student services technician at San Diego Mesa College, an accounting technician at San Diego City College, a groundskeeper/ gardener at Facilities Services, and a Web designer at the district’s headquarters, among others. 

“The academy gave me greater perspective and allowed me to see how my job and my responsibilities are having an impact on students throughout the district,” said Jessica Lee, who has been with the district for 17 years, the past five as a senior secretary in Instructional Services. “It really emphasized connecting with our counterparts at the different colleges and continuing education.”

More than 475 SDCCD employees have participated in leadership academies since 2009.

Such sentiments are common, says Erin Milligan Hill, the college district’s Director of Employment and Professional Development, who oversees the academies. “One of the most beneficial things people say they get out of the program is the networking,” she said. “They learn what other people are doing. They attain a new respect and awareness about the challenges and opportunities their colleagues face, and it puts them on a level of energy and enthusiasm where they want to learn and contribute even more.”

The academy for classified employees includes five half-day modules and two catered, brown-bag lunch discussions about the four self-guided study assignments. The Classified Academy is open to classified employees and others with an interest in gaining a foundational knowledge about the district, serving a lead role on a committee or project assignment, or who aspire to serve as a supervisor. Modules cover the following topics: leadership perspective, which includes personal awareness, key leadership characteristics, and understanding personal leadership style, in addition to an overview of the shared governance protocol in the district; cultural sensitivity and diversity, which covers working effectively across differences, the impact of structural and implicit biases, and understanding the essence of diversity, inclusion, and equity; self-management, which includes skills for effective communication under stress, and conflict management; time management, which includes tools to set priorities and get things done, and strategies for keeping your workspace and email organized; and career planning, which includes setting goals, having conversations with your manager, and recognizing factors that can set you off course. Professional facilitators are brought in to lead courses and discussions. 

Still Growing

The most recent addition to the Professional Development Program is the Faculty Leadership Development Academy, which was launched in the spring of 2016. The focus: to assist faculty in developing the understanding and insight about the skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to serve in leadership roles such as committee or department chairs, deans, or vice presidents. 

Future goals call for a Leadership Academy Alumni Event with keynote speakers and enhanced networking opportunities, in addition to an Advanced Leadership Development Academy with guest speakers from other college districts and regional organizations. Also on the drawing board is an Action Reflection Learning Team program, which will include graduates from the Leadership Academies and mentors who will team up to actively engage in research and projects of interest to the Chancellor’s Cabinet. 

The intention is that every participant in any part of the Professional Development Program, and what they gain for themselves as well as bring back to the workplace and their colleagues, may be considered a positive long-term return on investment from the program.

Stephanie Bulger

Vice Chancellor, Instructional Services, of the San Diego Community College District in California

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