COVID-19 Update-Chancellor Stuart Van Horn

an update on the district COVID-19 response from Chancellor Van Horn

The following message is being sent on behalf of Dr. Stuart Van Horn, Chancellor of the West Hills Community College District:

West Hills colleagues,

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting lives across the country.  We didn’t seek it.  We didn’t want it.  But we are going to win it.  We don’t know how things will play out, but change is happening by the hour.  And while things may never be the same, we will adapt to the new normal.  West Hills has an unwavering history of resilience and I am positive that we will not only survive, we will thrive.  Our strength is the purposeful, collective ability to be nimble, agile, and adaptable.  That’s by design.  This trinity is proving to be instrumental in our transition to fully online and remote operations and our ability to quickly implement public health measures.

As of this writing, there are two confirmed cases in Kings County and ten new cases in Fresno County over the past 24 hours.  District staff are in constant communication with each county’s public health department and will immediately notify us if any confirmed case is a student, faculty, or staff member at West Hills.  Should this change, we will immediately communicate next steps to you.  Per California Department of Public Health guidelines, we remain in Scenario II.  All college sites remain open with limited, essential services available, including WiFi.  Registration for summer, fall, and spring 2020-2021 began Monday.

This afternoon, I have directed district staff and college leadership to immediately transition 2020 summer class sections to a virtual, online format.  This directive enables us to implement the transition now and coincides with this week’s start of priority registration (Reg365) for summer, fall, and spring 2021 offerings.

Over the past two weeks, a number of steps were administered by the district and college leadership, including today’s Executive Team decision to transition to fully online for our summer 2020 session.  With the evolving crisis defined by rapid changes and updates, here are a select few key steps over the ten day period:

  1. The West Hills Community College District Board of Trustees held a special meeting and unanimously approved an emergency declaration granting the District Chancellor with emergency decision-making powers and authority in consultation with labor group leaders and college/district leadership.
  2. District Chancellor began releasing regular districtwide updates. You can review them here.
  3. CTA, then CSEA, each approved memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the district.  Regular contact with labor leadership is a continuing priority.
  4. District marketing released resource pages which are updated daily for students and employees.  In addition, frequent messaging to students is occurring via a comprehensive suite of digital and social media platforms.
  5. The district announced a transition to online and remote operations through April 24, 2020.  Continuity of instruction is essential.  This is subject to immediate change to protect public health.
  6. VPN and Jabber technology permissions have been widely broadened and issued to assist staff with remote operations.
  7. California Community College Chancellor’s Office directives are coming in regularly.  Several of them grant emergency authority to alter various regulations.
  8. As part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis, the district has sent a survey to all students in order to better understand the challenges they are facing as the colleges have transitioned to online classes and remote services.  While this survey is ongoing, nearly 500 responses have been received so far, and over 70 contacts have been forwarded to the colleges for individual follow-up by staff.
  9. The Department of Finance (DOF) released a cautionary memorandum of potential budget shortfalls due to the state’s shelter in place directive.
  10. Marketing provides news releases and posts on both employee and student COVID-19 sites.  You can view the latest news release here.
  11. Temporary closures of Firebaugh, San Joaquin, and Huron child development centers were just authorized.  Previously, the Avenal child development centers were closed due to the related closure of schools within the Reef-Sunset Unified School District.  Coalinga and Lemoore child development center sites remain open.  The temporary closures were necessary after a substantial drop (nearly 80%) in daily attendance.  The Coalinga and Lemoore CDC sites attendance remain at significantly higher levels.  

 

What’s ahead next week?  Each day, the Chancellor’s Executive Team holds operational briefings to discuss and problem solve this situation in real time.  This is the ideal venue for us to discuss your suggestions and concerns.  The best way to communicate your views is by completing and submitting this form.

Here is a select number of current topics being discussed:

  1. Finals Week – Input is being gathered from faculty leadership.  A decision is likely upon return from spring break
  2. Commencement – This is the day that defines a student’s journey.  Many higher education institutions have postponed or cancelled their commencement ceremonies.  West Hills is not one of them.  I am working with district/college leadership and faculty leadership on this topic.  Once input is received, additional direction will be provided in our next update.
  3. Current April 24 Timeline – I have been discussing an extension of the current timeline to provide delivery of online instruction beyond April 24 with district, college leadership, and faculty leaders this week.  Faculty leaders have been asked to submit their recommendations to me by late Monday.  I will distribute an announcement after review of the recommendations.

 

What are we holding or postponing for now?  I’ve chosen to delay the launch of our new district portal.  As you may know, substantial effort was taken to upgrade the functionality of our current system.  The result of the work has been impressive, but delay is prudent given the current uncertainty.

On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-33-20 directing all residents to stay at home, except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors.  As an educational institution, West Hills is specifically exempt from the executive order and is required to maintain operations.  While many functions can and are being completed remotely, other functions require employees to be on site to support distance education and educational attainment.  Examples of areas that require employees to be on site include: maintenance and operations, child care, academic and student services, information technology, business services, and minimum staffing to support necessary direct services to students such as open computer labs and student services.  Please remember the situation is extremely fluid and can change with very short notice.

Last night I flipped through one of many books chronicling the life of Ben Hogan, four time US Open Champion.  For those that know my hobbies, golf has been my passion since sneaking onto municipal courses in Costa Mesa, California since I was nine years old.  One of Ben’s favorite phrases was, “The most important shot in golf is the next one.”  During times of crisis, it’s advice that all of us would do well to remember as we continue to embody our collective strength through adversity.

Hang in there.  Be prepared to change quickly.  I will issue our next communication on Monday, March 30.  As always, I appreciate your relentless pursuit of student success.  Be well, take preventative measures, and practice social distancing to contain the virus.  Thank you.