Courtesy photo SFSC president Dr. Norman Stephens during the Panther 5K. He retires in June 1213 after 10 energetic years. He isn't going anywhere, he said. Highlands County is home.
published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Stephens guided college through changes
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- Dr. Norman Stephens, president of South Florida State College retires June 30, 2013. He began his tenure on September 3, 2002. The News-Sun sat down to talk to him about what it takes to be a president of a vibrant, growing community college -- community in the sense of being a part of, and serving, its community.
"A good, effective president," Stephens said, "creates an environment where talented people are empowered; where teams of people are effective and treat each other with respect; where individuals have an opportunity for professional development and grow with the institution; and creating an institutional culture that is respected in the community. That's the president's job, to inspire. It needs an individual with a good deal of experience."
A college president's work is similar to a school superintendent's. The board of trustees sets the policies, the president implements them.
The board of trustees for SFSC is appointed by the governor. This is because it does not have taxing authority. Those boards that set millage must be elected.
Stephens takes pride in the college, emphasizing how staff, department heads and faculty contribute to its success. "We have a strong team here, they deserve most of the credit," he said. "We're quite blesses with an incredible faculty that is very student oriented. We have faculty from every state you can imagine."
Much of the expansion and recent construction were underway, or approved before he took office, he added. The institution included Hardee County from the beginning. In 1984, it grew to include DeSoto County. "The University Center had just opened when I arrived; the Museum of Florida Arts and Culture and the dental program had been planned and funded.
Stephens did have a huge role, however, in the college's latest chapter, which was adding four-year degrees and changing from a community college to a state college this past year.
"I am only the third president in SFSC's history," Stephens said. "We're going on our 48th year. That's real good signal of stability and continuity. It says a lot about the college."
This doesn't mean the college hasn't faced issues.
"In a rural community. There are economic challenges," Stephens added, "and the enrollment is volatile. Between 2008 and 2011 we had a 33 percent increase, between 2011 and 2012 we had a drop (in the construction trades especially)."
The state legislature made significant changes affecting adult education, Stephens said. It used to be free, but now costs $30 a semester for those who can prove Florida residency. For those who cannot, like migrant workers, it costs $150 per semester, putting education out of many people's reach.
Teaming with three other county colleges to share an architect, and with funding available before the economy collapsed, the Health Science Center was built. Stephens said Glenn Little, vice-president for administrative services, played an essential role in the project.
"It was a strong example of teamwork, and my favorite (project) because so many people were involved. Our consortium saved the state money. I'm very proud of that."
He enjoyed renovating the Theatre for the Performing Arts, even though it was a complex, expensive process. The building had a lot of issues and wasn't up to code.
"We couldn't have done it without Donald Appelquist, executive director of the SFSC foundation and the county commission's (financial support)," Stephens said. "It was somewhat miraculous. I'm not sure how we did it."
As to the future, there are things the college needs to improve, Stephens said.
"For example, continuing education and English for speakers of other languages. That would take a statewide initiative.
"I'd like to see an academy for advanced students, our excellent students, so they can get a year or ahead. That saves the state and parents a lot of money. I'd like to dual enrollment and the career academy expand.
"I'd like to see more athletic programs and more ways for the students to connect (with the school). We have a wonderful art program -- I want a musical program, too. I'd like to see our cultural programs grow.
"Everything is getting more and more expensive. We need to explore alternative funding sources, have more partnerships.
"I'm most proud of the culture we've created and our relationship with the community. I hope that's my legacy."
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