Three local candidates compete for West Hills District Lemoore director

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Three local candidates compete for West Hills District Lemoore director

Believe it or not, Lemoore area voters will be casting ballots on Nov. 3, the only item on the ballot being an election for the Area 4 West Hills Community College District Board of Directors. Three candidates have officially filed to compete in the election. Voter pamphlets have already been mailed and will include three Lemoore area residents: Bobby Lee, retired Navy, Len Falter, the current incumbent, who was appointed to the position, and Sophia Aguilar, a registered dental hygienist.

Lee is a former naval officer and former member of the Lemoore City Council as well as a local businessman. His past community service includes the Kings County Grand Jury, Kings United Way Board, Lemoore Christian Aid, and the Greater Kings County Navy League President. He is currently serving the City of Lemoore as a member of the Kings Mosquito Abatement District and Kings County Finance Board.

Aguilar currently reside in Lemoore and is a member of the Lemoore Lions Club and a registered dental hygienist.  She developed a Dental Hygiene Preventative Program which, in collaboration with the Lion’s Club, offers dental services to children in the most impoverished parts of Northern Mexico. 

Furthermore, she has designed a program for schools in Kings County to improve oral health for migrant families and the homeless.  She is on her second year in the Master’s Program at Fresno Pacific University for School Psychologist/Counselor as well as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and has completed an additional 3 years in a graduate program for Forensic Psychology. In addition she has completed one-year of training working alongside Fresno County’s finest public defender attorneys.  She is a staunch advocate of higher education.

Falter, appointed to the Area 4 seat upon the death of longtime director Bill Henry, wants a full term. Falter is an executive coach and business development professional, whose company, FTM Leadership Services, Inc. is focused exclusively on individual development and organizational growth. He has also held senior leadership positions for nearly 30 years in the telecommunications industry with several major businesses, including most recently Comcast Communications in Central California.

He also spent important time in the United States Air Force where as a Missile Systems Analyst and Missile Systems Instructor working on Minuteman III nuclear missiles at Great Falls, Montana. He received the prestigious Master Instructor Award for the Air Force in 1980 for his work on the missile system.

The Leader asked each of the candidates a series of questions and each responded in his or her own way.

1.      Why are you running for the Area 4 seat on the West Hills College Board of Directors?

Bobby Lee: Education and training are our highest responsibilities to our young people. Many youngsters finish college with big student loan debt and a degree that does not prepare them for a job. We need to confer with business and industry throughout the state and determine what the job market needs and work toward preparing our students for life after school. My goal will be to help educate and train our students to take advantage of the economic opportunities available to them and be successful.

Sophia Aguilar: I am running to advocate the college in the community at both the state and national level.    WHCC should have vision and create a culture and community that is proud of its diversity.  I will advocate for hiring more instructors that will reflect the national origin of our students and community.

Len Falter:   I am a candidate for the WHCCD Board of Trustees because of my passion for education, my personal desire to see students of all ages able to continue their personal/professional growth and development, and because the board position closely aligns with my current professional vocation, which has a training and development component.  Additionally, beyond my current vocation with my own company these past 5 plus years, training, education and human development has been an integral part of my career-path in both the United States Air Force and in the Telecommunications industry.

2.      What do you believe you have to offer the District?

Bobby Lee: Leadership and experience.

Sophia Aguilar: I am young, vibrant, energetic, and very passionate about higher education.  I bring with me an array of resources and collaborative partners at both the local and state level.  Such initiatives will improve student success and help students overcome academic and non-academic barriers.

Len Falter:  I believe I bring a wealth of real-work-world experience related to training and educating adults in their chosen vocation and/or career-path.  Additionally, I bring significant business and financial acumen based upon my 30-years within the telecommunications industry and over 5-years as a private business consultant in my own start-up company, FTM Leadership Services, Inc.  My professional experience includes the following career experiences related to training and education:

My 7- plus years of working in the United States Air Force (Actives & Reserves) working on the Minuteman III Missile Systems, F-106 aircraft, and the A-10 aircraft.  Additionally, while in active service, I received the Master Instructor Award for my work in successfully preparing enlistees to perform electronic repairs and required maintenance on the Minuteman III missile systems.

4 plus years as the executive director for technical learning & development for AT&T Broadband, US West, and Comcast Communications, developing curricula and technical training platforms and labs to successfully prepare field technicians to work on electronic communication platforms designed to deliver voice, video and telephone services to residential and business customers.

I have 25 plus years in senior operating positions in the telecommunications industry with full P&L (profit & loss) responsibility.  Career highlights included successfully participating and completing eight mergers and acquisitions as a member of various transition teams for major Systems Operators such as AT&T Broadband, US West, Westinghouse, Continental Cablevision, Comcast and others.

I have five plus years as a private business consultant/coach and career development professional focused on skills based training in financial literacy, leadership competency development, and strategic planning for small to medium sized companies.

3.      What is your current impression of the state of the West Hills Community College District how it relates to other community colleges in the California?

Sophia Aguilar: The current state of the North District Campus (WHCC-Firebaugh) does not prosper in many areas.  It does not gain the attention compared to other community colleges in the state of California.  At the North District we need to spend more funds on expanding and upgrading numerous classrooms and technology, add more space for students, and hire more instructors.  This is imperative to achieve student success.

Len Falter: My personal impression of the West Hills Community College District is that we are a solid learning institution with significant potential for greater growth and service to our 5,300 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) student base.  In fact, the recent recognition of West Hill College Lemoore by USA TODAY as a Top-10 Community College in Northern California, supports my point-of-view of being a solid learning institution that is forward-looking. 

Furthermore, based upon feedback and interaction with other community college trustees at 2-statewide community college conferences I personally attended for professional development as a trustee over the past 24-months, I would share that the West Hills Community College District has a solid reputation for its ability to receive grants and awards for its’ innovation with technology aimed at student success.  In fact, the District’s $2.5M Innovation Award for REG365 received earlier in 2015 has helped to further elevate the district’s visibility and interest with other community colleges in California and across the United States.

And, while the District has had some significant achievements and accomplishments over the years, there is clearly more work to be done as the landscape for advanced education is ever-changing and evolving.  The board, the district’s leadership, the college’s faculty and staff will all need to remain solidly focused on driving ‘student-success’ across the District’s 3,400 square mile footprint that serves a host of rural communities.  Bringing meaningful, sustainable vocational training and advanced education programs will take teamwork and collaboration at every level of the organization/district. 

4.      What is the biggest challenge the West Hills College District faces in the upcoming years, and what would you do to face that challenge?

Bobby Lee: Keeping pace with a rapidly changing global economy and challenging our students and preparing them to successfully enter the job market or continue their education. 

Sophia Aguilar: The biggest challenge is overcrowded classes and not enough space.  This issue will have a negative impact on our students and educators.  Enrollment cuts, limited resources and faculty, and less pay for educators are some of the many effects WHCC will experience.  One alternative to alleviating campus overcrowding; would be to improve online education and increase online education opportunities.  In addition another challenge would be the lack of resources.  It is important to implement more programs and services that will support and help the students achieve academic success.  Furthermore, to face any challenge it is imperative that I make myself available to district employees, students, and community members for comments and suggestions.

Len Falter:  A flat and/or decreasing high school graduating base that will continue to adversely impact organic enrollment growth for the West Hills Community College District.  Coupled to this issue is the direct competition from ‘other’ distance and on-line learning programs that are eroding the district’s enrollment base from within our communities served by the district.

My role will be to work as an integral team member with the other Trustees in being thoughtful and educated in our decisions that guide the Chancellor and his team in maintaining standards of performance that optimize the use of the district’s fiscal and human resources towards the enrollment growth goals that have been set forth in the district’s 5-year Strategic Goals.  Additionally, I will work proactively with the district in regularly reaching out through meetings and interactions with our Lemoore community schools, as well as other schools within the district’s footprint, to listen to the concerns, feedback and other areas where the district can provide stronger and/or more targeted educational programs to meet the dynamic needs of the various communities across the district.

5.      Are there any special initiatives you would like to see tackled head on during your prospective term on the board?

Sophia Aguilar: A new initiative against lack of communication would be an improvement. Communicating with our stake holders (students, staff, and the community) and creating strong ties to the community to best represent the people and strengthen a crucial public institution (WHCC) is a step in the right direction.

Len Falter: Continued build-out of infrastructure and technology to promote distance learning and student success opportunities across the District, including the continued growth and utilization of learning platforms similar to the I-Pad initiative launched across the District in 2013-14.

Exploration of technologies and operating systems that drive greater efficiency and cost effectiveness for running our numerous buildings and facilities.  Suffice it to say, the cost for maintaining and providing services to our community college buildings, etc. is significant.  We need to remain vigilant in exploring current technologies and alternatives for running our district facilities more efficiently.

Acquisition of data accumulators that bring our district more useful information about the success and/or the gaps in our existing training systems, processes and learning-outcomes for our students.  And, to be able to proactively translate that information into meaningful feedback systems that help the district Leadership, faculty and staff become more proactive in optimizing the use of our resources to achieve student success measures that align with the state’s funding formulas for the community colleges in California.



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