Roxbury gets new start

Boston’s deeply troubled Roxbury Community College  is getting a fresh start with a new leader, writes Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Bunker Hill Community College, which is trying to raise student success rates, also has a new president.

Valerie Roberson

Valerie Roberson

Valerie Roberson has taken charge of Roxbury after years of “scandalous mismanagement.” Only 39.5 percent of students graduate or transfer within six years.

Pam Eddinger, who immigrated from Hong Kong when she was 11, hopes to raise the 47.1 percent graduation-or-transfer rate at Bunker Hill.

Both are women who hate to lose, writes Jackson.

A decade ago, Roberson was appointed interim president of Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. There was talk of closing the community college. The faculty went on a three-week strike. “After firing some full-time faculty, Roberson said she worked on stabilizing faculty relations and boosting scholarship and honors programs,” writes Jackson. She stayed as president for five years.

Roxbury’s “need for healing” is “like nothing she’s ever seen,” Roberson told Jackson. She’s started by “spiffing up the grounds and healing frayed relations with both community organizers and the business community.” And, she’s continuing an audit of the college’s tangled finances.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature are putting more funding into community colleges and offering incentives for colleges that improve graduation and transfer rates and help close the state’s skills gap, writes Jackson.

But community colleges have rapidly evolved into far more than skill schools. As the price of four-year private colleges spirals past $50,000 a year — and tuition, room, and board at UMass Amherst is $23,000 — less-expensive community colleges take on more ambitious students.

The state is also trying to align community colleges and university courses, so students can more easily transfer their credits. Lack of portability has depressed the state’s community college graduation and transfer rates, says Eddinger. Students are mobile. Their credits need to be mobile too.

45 million peanut butter sandwiches

President Obama’s higher ed plan is missing something: 45 million peanut-butter sandwiches a week. So argues Wick Sloane, who teaches at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.

Thanks to donors, including Panera Bread, hungry students at Bunker Hill can make themselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to get through the day, Sloane writes. Every Pell-eligible student — some nine million — should get a free PB&J sandwich every day, he argues. That’s 45 million sandwiches a week.

Many of these students . . . received federal free and reduced lunch in high school, didn’t they? Why? Because their families cannot afford enough food for the family. Why have we, the people, snatched lunch from these low-income students going on to college?

On a Friday last summer, Sloane made five sandwiches to go for a student who was phoning homeless shelters in vain.

What the heck? I put the jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread and a plastic knife into the bag, too.

“All this?” he asked me.

“Sure. Just finish your education, run for president, and make sure no one in the U.S. is ever homeless again,” I said.

“I haven’t seen him again,” writes Sloane.

Teaching, trauma and Tamerlan

Trauma is part of the job for many community college instructors, writes Wick Sloane, who teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. After the Marathon bombing suspects were named, Sloane checked his e-mails: Tamerlan Tsarnaev took his College Writing I class in spring 2007, cut frequently and failed. He’d sent a few e-mails excusing his absences before he quit for good.

Sloane has no insight into Tamerlan or his brother, he writes. But he’s often felt the urge to cry since “Bloody Friday” when police shut down Boston and Cambridge. Sloane lives a mile from the shootout and explosion that killed his former student. A few years ago, he ran the Boston Marathon.

Holding instructors accountable for students’ success “is fine by me,” writes Sloane. “The solutions just need a load factor for the days that community college teachers need a good cry.”

He’s experienced “secondary trauma” by reading his students’ essays.

. . .  in a few short years: murder, rape, shootings; sudden and prolonged homelessness; memories of wars in Somalia, Eritrea, El Salvador, the Congo; a father killed in the civil war in Mali; a student for whom I was buying a sandwich at 5 p.m. saying, “I guess you could tell I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Domestic violence. Stories from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another student in that 2007 writing class, Cedirick Steele, was shot and killed for no apparent reason. “The shooters planned to kill someone, it didn’t matter who.” Sloane testified as a character witness for the victim when the murderers were tried and convicted four years later.

Ex-con is poet, essayist and teacher

After serving eight years in prison for carjacking, Reginald Dwayne Betts enrolled at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland. The ex-con is now a poet, essayist and teacher and a published author, reports Community College Times.

Betts had spent his prison time reading and writing. At PGCC, he earned a full scholarship to the Honors Academy. Betts founded Young Men Read, a book club for African-American boys, and taught poetry at several Washington, D.C. public schools.

After graduating  in 2007 with an associate degree in general studies, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland College Park in 2009.

He wrote A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery/Penguin) and a collection of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palm  (Alice James Books), while earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College.

Betts currently teaches in Massachusetts at Middlesex Community CollegeEmerson College and Bunker Hill Community College.

“My experiences at the community-college level taught me how to get the best out of the college experience,” Betts said. “It’s more than success in the classroom.”

Obama depicted as crucified Christ

painting of President Obama in a crucifixion pose  is on display at Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery in Boston.

The painting by Michael D’Antuono is part of a larger exhibit called “Artists on the Stump – the Road to the White House 2012,” reports Fox News.

Called “Truth,”  the painting shows a crown of thorns rests on the president’shead.

Its original unveiling at New York City’s Union Square was cancelled nearly four years ago because of charges of blasphemy.

“The crucifixion of the president was meant metaphorically,” D’Antuono told Fox News. “My intent was not to compare him to Jesus.”

D’Antuono blamed the controversy on conservative media “trying to promote the idea that liberals believe the president to literally be our savior,” reports Fox News.

Boston colleges will ‘blend’ with edX

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” class, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Beginning in spring, Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and MassBay Community College’s greater Boston campuses will offer a modified version of edX’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming,” an online class based on MIT’s introductory computer science course.

Community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support, while three MIT professors will teach the online course.

The Gates Foundation is supporting the collaboration with a million-dollar grant.

“At the end of the day, the purely online experience doesn’t capture the in-person interaction that we all care about,” said Anant Agarwal, edX president and an MIT professor.

EdX currently offers nine online courses open to hundreds of thousands of students around the world.  Agarwal plans to offer more blended courses, particularly at community colleges.