HCC has a new presidentDr. Barbara M. Parker accepts position
With hugs and handshakes from the members of the Haywood Community College Board of Trustees, Haywood County native Dr. Barbara Sue Messer Parker officially accepted the position as the college’s new president.
“I’m very proud to be part of one of the finest community colleges around,” she said in her speech to faculty and staff after the March 28 announcement.
Parker obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees in special education. She also holds a master's degree in school administration and has a doctorate in educational leadership.
She has worked in education administration for the past 15 years, most recently at Rutherford County Schools where she is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She previously worked in Buncombe County for seven years as the A.C. Reynolds Middle School principal, director of secondary education and director of middle schools.
A return to Haywood
Parker said she is excited to once again work in the county where she was raised and where she and her husband, Greg, currently live. She not only is a product of Haywood County Schools, but also worked in the local school system for 20 years where she taught and served as principal of both Jonathan Valley Elementary and Waynesville Middle School.
“I’m sure I’ll work with students here that I had in elementary school. It sure makes you feel old,” she joked.
But, she added, despite a long, satisfying career in K-12 education, she is ready to move on to higher education and face new challenges and opportunities.
"For me, I've done K-12," Parker said. "It's exciting to be at Haywood Community College where I'm in another level of education."
Experience and learning curves
Parker said her administrative experience in education will serve her well in her new post, although she acknowledged she will have a big learning curve when it comes to working from the community college perspective.
"The learning curve is learning the community college practices, policies and curriculum," she said.
Parker’s experience working with the community college system has come from her time in Buncombe County when she helped to implement a middle college program and an early college high school program on the A-B Technical Community College campus.
“I’ve worked closely with community colleges. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work with those folks and interact with those folks. I think I can bring a perspective to community college from having been a part of that,” she said, citing further experience developing new curriculums, creating budgets, serving on the school board, working on building projects and other aspects of education administration. “I’ve been able to equip myself for this next step in my career.”
When she assumes her new post on July 1, Parker promised she would "hit the ground learning. I'll be spending a lot of time becoming acquainted with the college staff and courses. There will be no abrupt changes,” she said in describing her management style.
"I learn. I talk with people, and I ask a lot of questions so I can understand the culture and why things are done they way they are," she said.
Parker said she considered applying for the post the first time it was advertised but didn't. Then when the board didn't make a selection, she decided to throw her name in the mix.
"This was always something I had an interest in," she said.
Looking toward the future
As for her vision for the future, Parker said she is interested in helping grow an already excellent college by serving students, the community and serving as a vital piece of the economic development for Haywood County.
As distance learning becomes a larger component of education in the nation, Parker said it is important to be open about new forms of education.
"We need to think about education in different ways and how we provide it," she said. "We also need to think about our learners, students who have grown up with technology their entire lives."
At HCC, 60 percent of students are enrolled in at least one online class, and Parker said she only sees that trend growing as technology and new needs develop.
“I think HCC has always been focused on its students, and they’ve always been very attuned to the needs of the businesses and industries in Haywood County,” she said, adding the dynamics of education are always changing. “That’s something we need to be aware of and continue to answer.”
A good fit
HCC Board Chairman Bob Morris described Parker as a natural leader with a love for education who has roots in Haywood County.
“It’s the fit for our community and it’s the fit for our college,” he said.
When asked if Parker’s lack of community college administration experience was a concern for the board as she transitions into her new job, Morris said the board felt her work in the past designing and implementing high school middle college and early college programs has helped to prepare her for the position.
He added that her particular type of experience is an advantage because of HCC’s growing early college program.
The response from the faculty and staff seemed enthusiastic during the announcement, and Employee Senate Vice Chair Mekenzie Mull admitted there is a sense of relief on campus at knowing they finally have a new president after former president Rose Johnson left the position almost five months ago.
“I think there is going to be a general relief across the campus,” she said. “It’s hard to make decisions or make any kind of long-term decisions when you don’t know who is going to be the president.”
While she can’t speak for everyone on the faculty and staff, she said she thinks most will be pleased with the choice.
“I’m very excited to see we have a Haywood County native,” she said. “I think her strong background in education will be a good asset. (Senate members) felt strongly that the president should have a doctorate, so I feel that’s a good plus. I think they’ll be happy.”
As Parker publically addressed the staff and faculty for the first time, she said she was excited to be “coming home” to Haywood County.
“It is my privilege to join you in providing the highest community college experience for our students,” she said.
Vicki Hyatt contributed to this story.