Two years after a deflated economy left Santa Rosa Junior College with a quarter of its classes axed, an upbeat President Frank Chong declared Thursday that for myriad reasons the school is once again sharply on the rise.
Chong told a crowd of 450 at the SRJC Foundation's "President's Address to the Community" luncheon that more than 500 classes now are restored, and both private gifts and governmental grants are up markedly.
Chong cited a host of improvements to SRJC's programs and facilities, and also to its services for low-income students, veterans, foster youth, people with disabilities and others. Yet, he noted to guests seated in Haehl Pavilion, "If you look around you, there is no air-conditioning in this gymnasium."
He said voters' approval of Measure A in 2002 provided bond money that brought the construction of a new library, student center and other essential buildings, but many long-existing structures beg for upgrading.
When he walks older parts of the 96-year-old school's main campus and its satellites, he said, "What I see is tired, aging classrooms that lack the basics."
He added, "I want future students to enjoy the same quality education you or your children or grandchildren had here."
Chong said he's encouraged that a recent poll of likely voters found that 94 percent of respondents hold a favorable view of Santa Rosa Junior College. He quipped, "I want to talk to that other 6 percent."
Members of the junior college's Board of Trustees are in the process of considering whether to place a $410 million general obligation bond on the November ballot. Chong asked his listeners' continued support of "our efforts to upgrade our campuses in order to maintain our mission and passion to train the future work force of Sonoma County and our region."
"You have all set a high bar, and I will never disappoint you with low expectations," he said.
The luncheon, an opportunity for the college's president to deliver an annual state-of-the-school address, also awarded the SRJC's Foundation's 21st President's Medallion for outstanding service or contributions to the college.
For the first time ever, the honor went to "Anonymous." Chong described the honoree only as a "humble person" who was long a supporter of the JC when, in 2012, he donated $6.1 million for a perpetual endowment.
The highlights of Thursday's luncheon included remarks by four current or former SRJC students who have benefited from academic programs and scholarships funded by that endowment.
Earnings from the gift pay for a Teaching Fellows initiative that pairs faculty mentors and students interested in becoming teachers. The money also provides scholarships to SRJC students who are low-income, need a financial boost to transfer to four-year college or are in danger of dropping out because of financial pressures.
One of the four beneficiaries of the anonymous donor's gift, Zak Gruey, told the crowd he was a pathetic student until the Teaching Fellows program ignited his passion to become a teacher.
Absent that spark, Gruey said, "I could have been cast off as a pest."