Parker has no direct experience working in the community college realm but has had a 30-year career in the public school system, including tenures as an elementary and middle school principal and assistant superintendent.
“I am sure I will run across students I had in elementary and middle school here at HCC,” she quipped.
Parker admits she will have a “learning curve” when it comes to the ins-and-outs of running a community college. But trustees said they weren’t concerned about that.
“Haywood Community College is in the business of education, and she is driven by her love for education,” said Bob Morris, chairman of the HCC Board of Trustees. “Her leadership qualities are just amazing.”
Morris said “good people” are in place under Parker to run the day-to-day, while her main role will be as a big-picture leader and community liaison.
“We haven’t had that type of leadership in a good while,” HCC Trustee Charles Boyd said.
HCC Trustee Mary Ann Enloe believes Parker will prove her mettle in building civic relationships, which is paramount in the trustees’ eyes.
“We must partner here at Haywood Community College with the public,” Enloe said. “I saw that as a deficiency.”
A welcome reception was held for Parker on March 28, immediately following the announcement of her appointment by the HCC Board of Trustees. She pledged to bring stakeholders together, often referencing the importance of faculty, staff, students and community working together.
“My leadership style is one of collaboration and respect for diversity of opinions,” Parker said in a speech to the audience. “I maintain an open door policy and seek ideas from others as I make decisions.”
Parker said she believes in inviting those to the table who would be impacted by the outcome of a decision.
“She’s the kind of person who can work with anyone. To me, that is key,” said Bill Upton, a Haywood County commissioner and former superintendent of Haywood County Schools. He added Parker was an excellent choice by the trustees.
“If you are the Haywood Community College president, you need to be a community ambassador for your school,” Upton said. “If that is taken care of, everything else is going to fall into place.”
Parker’s familiarity with the county is also an asset — and goes hand in hand with her ability to pull people in the community together, according to HCC Trustee Brian Briggs.
Though being a local wasn’t a criteria, it was certainly appealing, Boyd added, pointing out that Parker’s “granddaddy” was superintendent of Haywood County Schools in the mid-20th century.
Symbolic of her embracing leadership style, Parker exchanged friendly hugs with nearly everyone on the HCC Board of Trustees following her appointment. She was unanimously appointed by the trustees last week — the culmination of two separate searches held during the past year.
The first search didn’t produce any candidates that were the right fit for HCC, the board concluded. Plus, there was substantial turnover among trustees during the course of the first search, leading to the results being scrapped and a second search initiated.
“I was looking for the right person for this college in this community at this time,” Enloe said.
Parker’s base salary will be $126,000 with a benefit package equivalent to $32,000.
Ready for the challenge
Don’t expect Parker to take the helm of HCC with her guns blazing. She said she is not bringing any preconceived goals or initiatives to the position.
“I am a watcher and a listener. I need to understand where they are and what they are currently doing,” she said.
Parker can’t say right now what her top priorities will be.
“I don’t have a sense of that,” she added.
Her background in the public school system is one area where Parker will no doubt put her bridge-building skills to use though.
“Haywood Community College has always been an integral part of the education continuum available to students in Western North Carolina,” she said. “It is exciting to me to be part of the next level we have prepared K-12 students to be ready for. I can bring a perspective to community colleges having been a part of that.”
Trustee Boyd said he liked the idea of Parker being able to develop a close relationship with the high schools.
However, Parker acknowledged that many of HCC’s students do not come directly from high school into the community college system. The average age of HCC students is 28. In today’s economy, community colleges are increasingly serving an older student population — those coming back to school for job retraining or a midlife career change.
“The economic dynamic has changed dramatically in the past several years and continues to change. That is something we have to be aware of and continue to step up,” she said. “Training, retaining and workforce development is critical to Haywood County and our continued economic growth.”
HCC is indeed a training ground for the local business community. Industries rely on the community college to provide specific coursework — from health care to law enforcement to paper manufacturing — to turn out skilled workers in particular fields.
While HCC has some flagship programs it is known for — such as wildlife, forestry and the creative arts — Parker said she will focus on the college as a whole.
“My initiative would be to target all of our programs,” she said.
After all, community colleges exist to serve the needs of the community. The tall marching orders — to be all things to all people — makes a broad spectrum necessary.
“I am committed to working with you — the faculty and staff and the community — to continue to find ways to serve the students,” Parker told the audience at her welcome ceremony.
For some students, HCC gives them the tools and training to go straight into the workforce, such as cosmetology, emergency services, auto mechanics or construction trades.
But the community college is also a stepping-stone for students going on to get four-year degrees at universities.
“As far as students from high school who come here, it is a good place for them to get two years under their belt at a more affordable cost,” Parker said.
Meet HCC’s next president
Dr. Barbara Sue Parker, 54, will take the helm of Haywood Community College July 1.
She grew up in Haywood County and has a local family lineage. She got both her masters in school administration and doctorate in educational leadership at Western Carolina University.
Parker spent 20 years with Haywood County Schools, first as a teacher, then as principal at Jonathan Valley Elementary and principal of Waynesville Middle School. She then went to work in Buncombe County as the principal of Reynolds Middle School. Her upward trajectory in school administration continued as the director of Middle Schools and 21st Century Professional Teaching Standards for Buncombe County Schools. Since 2010, she has been the assistant superintendent of Rutherford County Schools.
Parker continued to come home nearly every weekend, however. Her husband until recently was the principal of Riverbend Elementary.