Highline Community College administrator has worked for 26 years in 'democracy's colleges'

OUTLOOK PHOTO:TERESA CARSON - Lisa Skari, a top executive at Highline Community College will be the 11th president of Mt. Hood Community College. Lisa Skari, a top executive at Highline Community College south of Seattle, was selected as the 11th president of Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) in a unanimous vote of the board of education Tuesday night.

Skari will replace college President Debra Derr, who earlier announced she would retire effective June 30.

"I'm excited," Skari said by phone from Washington. "I was drawn to Mt. Hood because of the significant opportunities and the strength of the institution."

Skari, 52, who has worked in community colleges for 26 years, will start her new job on July 23 with an annual salary of $201,000.

The board conducted an exhaustive six-month search to "select the right leader to take us into the next decade and beyond," said Tamie Tlustos Arnold, chairwoman of the board. Calling Skari "a bold and innovative leader," Arnold said the choice was a difficult one because of the "exceptional qualifications of the candidates."

Skari was not at the board meeting on Tuesday, March 27, when the announcement was made.

Her contract is in the final stages of negotiation.

She currently is the vice president for institutional advancement at Highline in Des Moines, Wash. Prior to that she was the executive director for institutional advancement at Highline.

Skari grew up in Montana and moved to Washington to attend Washington State University in Pullman. After a stint in retailing as a manager, buyer and trainer for the now-defunct Lamonts department store chain, she found the training and education part of her retail experience the most compelling and decide to make that her career.

Skari earned a doctorate of education degree from Washington State University, Pullman, and a master's of business administration degree from Pacific Lutheran University, in Parkland, Wash.

In forums on campus in mid-March, Skari emphasized her commitment to community colleges, calling them "democracy's colleges." She also discussed her push to increase the number of faculty members of color at Highline, something she would also like to do at MHCC.

"It takes a lot of time," she noted, "but now 35 percent of Highline's full-time faculty are people of color."

She added that part of how community colleges serve the diverse communities that attend them.

Like MHCC, many Highline students have barriers to being successful at college, whether because of language, poverty or other issues.

"It's not rocket science," she said. "To help these students be more successful, you have to provide wraparound services."

The new president faces some challenges at Oregon's sixth-largest college and third-largest community college.

Voters recently turned the school down twice in its bid for a facilities bond, first for $125 million and then for $75 million. The bond funds would have been used to make security and safety upgrades and build a new Workforce and Applied Technology Center, which would house cutting-edge programs in manufacturing, automotive technology, welding and other skilled-career programs.

In general, Skari wants to "strengthen the community on campus and how we are working with the external community," she said.

Skari plans to study how the prior bond votes went and determine "where we are doing OK and where we are struggling." She also wants to work with the community and determine "how we have the conversation of what the taxpayers would be willing to pay for."

Skari has extensive experience working with the community, serving as a member and past board chairwoman of the Greater Federal Way (Wash.) Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Federal Way.

Skari was among five finalist candidates who visited the MHCC campus in mid-March to meet with various groups and field questions in public forum.

Her start date was slightly delayed because she is getting married in early July in Montana. She and her fiancee have just started thinking about housing, but the new president indicated she wants to live close to MHCC's main campus at 26000 S.E. Stark St., in Gresham.

Skari said she'll spend her first 100 days on the new job — her honeymoon period both professionally and personally — "getting to know the people and programs on campus and off."

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