DeRionne Pollard, who over the past decade has helped Montgomery College win recognition as one of the nation’s best community colleges, was appointed on Thursday as the new president of Nevada State College.
She is expected to take over at the four-year institution in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, in the summer.
Her four-year contract includes a salary of about $367,000 annually. She will be the first woman and first African American to lead Nevada State, according to school officials.
The Nevada State College Board of Regents approved Pollard’s appointment on Thursday in an 8-1 vote.
Pollard, who attended the meeting in person, said she is “deeply grateful” for the opportunity.
She said she applied for the job because the school’s “mission was compelling to me, and Nevada State College is a place that I think is unique.”
An emotional Pollard told the board she learned on Wednesday — the same day a search committee recommended her as the next Nevada State president — that her father had died.
“I have really gotten through the last 24 hours because of the chancellor and the college community who reached out before you even really know me to love me,” Pollard said.
In a statement Thursday morning before the Nevada Regents vote, Montgomery College Board of Trustees President Michael Knapp congratulated Pollard, anticipating her departure based on the search committee’s recommendation.
He said the college will announce plans for an interim president and the process for selecting her replacement “in the coming days.”
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, who chairs the council’s Education & Culture Committee, said he is happy for Pollard, but her departure is “a sad moment for us.”
“To see a leader who came on basically the same time I did and take an institution to be world-known and recognized as one of the best in the nation is a sad moment for us, but certainly one in which we understand many schools throughout the country saw her great leadership potential,” Rice said.
In a statement, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich wrote that the county is “losing an incredible leader.”
“Dr. DeRionne Pollard has made a tremendous impact since assuming leadership of Montgomery College in 2010,” Elrich wrote, lauding her work to facilitate partnerships with Montgomery County Public Schools and The Universities at Shady Grove. “… We will miss her vigor, her commitment to equity, and her work for access to a quality education for all our residents.”
Nevada State College is a four-year public school with an enrollment of about 5,500 students, according to the school’s website. Another 2,200 students are enrolled in non-credit courses. The school has 800 employees. About 75% of the student population is Hispanic, Asian, Black or multiracial.
It is searching for a new president for the first time in nearly 10 years after current President Bart Patterson announced his resignation, effective June 30.
During a meeting on Thursday afternoon, the Nevada State College Board of Regents said there was “overwhelming support” from both the public and the search committee for Pollard’s appointment at Nevada State College.
Several community members and Nevada State employees also submitted testimony in support of Pollard, saying they expect her to successfully oversee “significant growth” at the school and use strategic thinking.
Patterson said, “It’s great to see the campus rally around a candidate.”
There was brief discussion during the Regents’ meeting about allegations of excessive travel spending by Pollard in 2016.
A representative of the search committee said the issue “first surfaced by staff who were let go and were carrying on a crusade against Dr. Pollard.”
News reports at the time alleged Pollard had racked up more than $70,000 in travel expenses since 2013, averaging 13 trips over the prior two years. Included in the sum were thousands spent on upgrading seats and carrying extra and overweight baggage.
But a Montgomery County inspector general investigation in 2017 found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Nevada State College Chancellor Melody Rose said, “There is simply no merit to these allegations and I would suggest that the matter be put to rest.”
“Dr. Pollard has been fully cleared of any claim of wrongdoing by every entity that has reviewed this and no one has found impropriety whatsoever,” Rose said. “The expenditures that you see for Dr. Pollard’s travel are typical of nationally recognized experts, and it’s something we would expect to see in someone so accomplished.”
Nevada State Regent Patrick Boylan was the only member of the board to vote against Pollard’s appointment, after voicing concern about the allegations of excessive spending.
After the vote, Pollard told the board that she will “lead from a place of great integrity.” And to anyone who questions her character: “Watch me do the work.”
Pollard was one of four finalists for the Nevada State College job. There were 92 applicants, according to Rose.
The four finalists gave presentations this week that were videotaped and posted on YouTube. A search committee on Wednesday recommended Pollard for the job.
Before she came to Montgomery College, Pollard was administrative and instructional president of Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif.
She previously was the vice president of educational affairs at the College of Lake County in Illinois and held other positions there.
Pollard was the first Black woman and “openly LGBTQ+ individual to lead the College,” and built a “culture of acceptance and aspiration where higher education is available to all members of our community,” according to a statement from the Montgomery County Council.
“Dr. Pollard has always been a unifying force in our community. Her willingness to innovate and partner with government, the business community, and our nonprofit sector has benefited all our residents,” the statement said. “… The Council will miss Dr. Pollard’s visionary leadership, trailblazing spirit, and her courage to speak on behalf of those who may otherwise have no voice. Montgomery County will continue to benefit from the countless leaders she has cultivated and her steadfast commitment to fostering an environment where every person can achieve their full potential.”
With Pollard’s departure, the list of changes to local education institutions’ top leadership grows.
In June, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith will retire. His second-in-command, Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight, will serve as interim through June 2022 while the district searches for its next leader.
Also in June, the county’s teachers union will have a new president for the first time since 2015. Jennifer Martin will take over for Chris Lloyd, who has headed the union for six years.
The state Department of Education is looking for its next state superintendent as Karen Salmon plans to retire June 30.
Additionally, in October, The Universities at Shady Grove hired a new executive director, Anne Khademian, a former professor and presidential fellow at Virginia Tech.
Some education advocates have expressed concern about changes in school leadership as institutions deal with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rice said it will be important for county officials to ensure initiatives that outgoing leaders started “don’t die with them.”
But he added that there is an opportunity to be innovative and continue to strengthen partnerships between institutions and community organizations.
“What we want at the end of the day is that all parents — not just the gifted and talented or in accelerated programs — can talk about how much MCPS did for their students’ success. We’ve heard that from some and not all, so I hope these changes can help get us there.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org