LEMOORE — Candidates for chancellor of the West Hills Community College District spoke to faculty, students and the public in the first of three public forums Monday in Lemoore.

The four finalists talked about their experiences and answered questions from the public with topics ranging from leadership to student success.

The finalists are:

  • Dr. Sandra Caldwell, president of Reedley College
  • Dr. Melinda Nish, executive adviser to the president at College of the Marshall Islands
  • Dr. Jill Stearns, president of Modesto Junior College
  • Dr. Stuart Van Horn, interim president of West Hills College Coalinga


Caldwell said she applied for the position because she is committed to rural-based community colleges.

"I come to you as a candidate for this chancellor position because that's where my heart is," she said.

Caldwell stressed the importance of collaboration and added that every staff member — from a maintenance worker to the college president — is there to help students succeed.

“Shared governance is critical to really make the best impact to our students,” she said.


Nish is attracted to rural communities and believes having access to higher education at a low cost is important for student success.

When it comes to closing the achievement gap, Nish believes that it starts with connecting students with someone whom they can identify with at an early stage of their academic career. She said positive influences can help students succeed.

“We are all working on this,” she said. “The student achievement gap is of great concern.”


"The opportunity to transform the next generation is where I want to be," said Stearns.

Stearns said she thinks WHCL is in the right place for growth and is curious to see how Naval Air Station Lemoore will impact the campus.

“It continues to have a growing rate,” she said.

Van Horn

Van Horn said the district is a great place because it holds high expectations and is committed to serving those in the Central Valley.

“It’s a district of doers and high achievers,” he said.

He said it is important to have a diversified staff at each of the colleges and at the district level.

“When you are looking at demographics, our colleges need to reflect communities that we serve,” he said.

The four candidates were selected from the top seven candidates, who were interviewed by a committee after a search was launched to replace WHCCD Chancellor Frank Gornick. Gornick is retiring after 23 years with the district.

The finalists will be interviewed by the WHCCD Board of Trustees on Thursday and a new chancellor will be selected.

This reporter can be reached at csandoval@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2422. 

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