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President's ideas take shape on PHCC campus

Published November 27, 2005

It has been almost a year since Katherine Johnson took over as president of the 19,000-student Pasco-Hernando Community College.

As Johnson, 54, seeks to make her imprint on the school, her style is noticeably different from Milton Jones and Robert Judson, the men who preceded her, observers said.

Both Jones and Judson, who retired Feb. 1, are remembered for their military style of leadership. With Judson, staff members recall, you definitely knew the way he wanted things done.

Thus far, Johnson has impressed staff and students with her collaborative approach.

Each month she visits the school's campuses for birthday cake parties with employees celebrating birthdays that month. It's a chance to hear firsthand what's on their minds.

Faculty and staff have gotten used to her first Monday of the month e-mail updates.

Community advisory committees played a big role in decisionmaking, for example, in the introduction to the I.T. Network Security program that's about to start in January.

She's very visible on campus. She recently showed up at a student karaoke event. She didn't sing, but students knew their new president was listening.

"I'm a firm believer in communication," she said. "Communication is a critical first step. Folks had to get to know me."

Her communication skills will be tested in the coming years as she tries to secure money for facilities in Spring Hill and Wesley Chapel.

Meanwhile, Johnson is trying to build school spirit. That's not easy at a community college. For so many students it's a two-year interval between there and someplace else.

She even introduced the new Conquistador award, named after the school's mascot, to recognize an employee, student, community group or individual who has made a significant contribution to the school. The first recipient: the school's nine-member District Board of Trustees. As a woman who has lived and worked in the South, Johnson understands how to show people that they're appreciated.

She's also a cheerleader for community colleges.

"When I talk to groups I tell them, "I was where you were,"' she said.

Because she was the third child in her blue collar family, she said her parents couldn't afford to send her straight to a four-year university.

Johnson attended Florida Community College in Jacksonville before heading to the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

Her career in education has been mainly in community colleges. Johnson spent 17 years at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, where she rose from guidance counselor to vice president. She was president of Nash (N.C.) Community College for five years before returning to Florida.

"Community colleges may be the first and only chance for some students," she said.

As she completes her first year, she has key staffers in place. Michele Releford was hired as the new vice president of student development and enrollment management.

Arla Altman is the new director of the PHCC Foundation and dean of development. She'll be in charge of expanding the school's $25-million endowment.

Johnson transferred the math and science programs into what is now the arts and science department, allowing dean Michael Adams to focus more on the high demand health occupations program.

"You have to be careful you don't make changes for change sake," she said. "What I bring to the table is a new set of eyes."

That's disarmingly modest. Her goals aren't, however.

She wants PHCC to have a place at every table whenever economic development, training or educational opportunities are being discussed in this region.

Reserve her a seat.

--Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is

[Last modified November 27, 2005, 01:18:21]

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