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Columbia College’s President Fairchilds Prepares Her Exit

Columbia, CA — With a series of significant goals met, solid leadership and a strong strategic plan in place, Columbia College’s president says she is ready to pass the torch.

Speaking with Clarke Broadcasting about her decision to retire this June, Dr. Angela Fairchilds, whose four-year Mother Lode tenure caps off a 38-year career in higher education, says that her head and heart both finally chimed in to tell her it is time to step back. Chuckling, she confides, “My husband has been retired now for 15 years — he retired when we came back to California from Arizona — and I think he was hoping then that I would have been ready!”

Describing Columbia College as a special place that she knows will be left in safe hands, Fairchilds confides, “The timing feels right. We have a talented leadership team in place now…some strong faculty working collegially to achieve the goals and priorities of the college and meeting the needs of the students and the community.” Adding to her rationale she notes, “We have our strategic plan in place, our foundation is really on solid ground and we just launched the Columbia Promise [a free tuition program, as reported here] for the high school students. So we have accomplished a lot in the last four years — and I think the college is moving forward on a strong path and we have the right leadership team in place to keep it moving along.”

A Healthy Time To Depart

When Fairchilds arrived in 2014, fresh from a similar post at Woodland Community College, she did not see a retirement horizon, though watching personal friends over the past couple of years lose their spouses, some very suddenly and unexpectedly, started her thinking about it. “I wanted to make sure Dave [my husband] and I had quality time together to travel and do some of the fun, leisurely things on our own schedule while we still had the time together — and good health to travel and do those kinds of things,” she explains. Those thoughts helped form her decision over this past Christmas break.

Looking back on her time at Columbia she recounts, “One of the things that I made a priority when I arrived was to make sure the college reconnected in a meaningful way to the community and I think we have done that.” Since word first began circling about her retirement a few weeks ago, she says she received welcome confirming feedback about that effort.

Too, she says, “Columbia becoming well-known in the state and nationally because, as I like to say, ‘we are small but mighty’. The team up here is not afraid to compete against the ‘big dogs’. We have been successful and the [college’s] apprenticeship grants [as reported here] are a fine example of that. For a small college for us to be able to qualify for that type of funding and those kinds of programs is significant. Getting that kinds of recognition… looking for different ways to serve our community and help our students be successful is front and center for us — and I think that we have done an excellent job with those two things.”

Recruitment Plans Now Rolling

As far as succession plans go, Fairchilds says the processes are in place. The district has contracted with a recruiting consultant; published the opening of her position; formed a review committee and set up a timeline that anticipates a new president to be on board by the beginning of July. In fact, final interviews and public forums are slated the week of April 16-20, while faculty and staff are still within the school year.

“I wanted to give the district the whole six-month time-frame to find somebody to fill my size six and a half shoes,” Fairchilds jokes, adding that when the time comes to go it will definitely be a tug for her. Future plans include retiring to Oro Valley just outside of Tucson, Arizona, where she and her husband have maintained a longtime home that will become a home base for travel and other activities. An Alaska cruise planned for June has been pushed to September, a time that she notes was previously impossible for her to travel at all. It will be followed sometime next year with a nice long break in the British Isles, her home country.

Looking to her soon-to-be new schedule ahead, Fairchilds is practically incredulous as she shares a parting comment, “In 38 years I have never been able to be gone for more than two weeks at a time, so I am really looking forward to…nice quiet time, traveling with my husband — and not having anyone else but me driving my schedule!”