From West Hills College
Dr. Frank Gornick to retire
Dr. Frank Gornick to retire
Photo Courtesy of West Hills College

One of California’s foremost higher education leaders is retiring from West Hills Community College District. Dr. Frank Gornick has served as the district’s Chief Executive Officer since 1994 and will retire at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, after 23 years at the helm.

The longtime educator was hired as Superintendent-President and transitioned to Chancellor when WHCCD became a multi-college district in 2001.

The Board of Trustees will launch a national search for his replacement as Chancellor for the district, which governs West Hills College Coalinga, West Hills College Lemoore, North District Center, Firebaugh, and its affiliated sites.

Citing his long record of distinguished service and leadership, Board Chair Mark McKean said Gornick’s departure was not unexpected but rather part of a succession plan that’s been under study for the past three years. 

“We know these are big shoes to fill and we are actively seeking a new Chancellor who will maintain our momentum and build on our legacy while maintaining our strong fiscal condition,” McKean said. “Under his visionary leadership, our district has become a significant contributor to the growth and development of the community college system in California.” McKean was on the Board when Gornick was hired two decades ago.

Jeff Levinson, another longtime board member, recalls that in 1994 the district was struggling due to declining enrollment. “Dr. Gornick brought us a vision and under his tutelage we transitioned to a multi-college district that has created opportunities for thousands of students,” Levinson said. “We were looking for someone to lead us forward, and his leadership enabled us to grow our facilities to meet the demand. He’s had a huge impact on our communities and on student success.”

As the new CEO, Gornick galvanized the community to pass a $19 million bond measure in 1998 to upgrade the Coalinga campus and revitalize college programs.

As Chancellor, he guided the planning and construction of a second campus, West Hills College Lemoore, which opened its doors in 2002; the expansion was made possible by a generous donation of 107 acres of land from the Pederson-Semas families. The district also operates the North District Center, Firebaugh, part of an ongoing outreach to rural communities that has had an impact in nearly a dozen surrounding towns.

A series of additional voter-approved bond measures over the past two decades provided millions of dollars to build the new Lemoore campus, expand and upgrade facilities and provide ongoing technology updates districtwide. Those funds have been matched by the state to generate more than $300 million in facility upgrades, technology and new buildings, all of which have had a major impact on the region’s economy and job market. Construction is still underway at the Lemoore campus, and a new facility in Firebaugh is in the planning stages.

Gornick has recruited a team of talented professionals focused on student success, educational reform, and the acquisition of a record number of grants that total more than $120 million over the past two decades.

“I’ve been excited to come to work every morning for nearly 23 years,” Gornick said. “I am planning to sprint to the finish. It’s not often that one is provided an opportunity to have a dream job. For me, being the CEO and working with the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, and community leaders is a privilege. The district is in a better place now, and poised for great things in the future because of everyone’s hard work and dedication to student success.”

Gornick was a Governor’s appointee for higher education on the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and served as past Chair of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium. Additionally, he has served as a public representative for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges since 2009. He was elected by his peers to serve as Chair of the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges Board.

He’s also been recognized by his peers with a number of awards including the MetLife Foundation Community College Excellence Award, the Executive of the Year Award from the Public Relations Society of America for college communications, and honors from the California Community College system for best practices in the fields of Diversity, Technology, and Highest Performing Institutions.

Gornick was born and raised in Chicago but attended what was then Coalinga College where he played football and graduated in 1966 with an Associate’s Degree. He returned 28 years later to become president. Prior to that, he was Dean of Student Services at Bakersfield College for nine years. He also held college administrative positions in Illinois, Texas and Maryland.

The CEO holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from California State University, Sacramento, and a Ph. D. from St. Louis University.

He and his wife, Gloria, son Frank Gornick, Jr., daughters Victoria and Christina, and granddaughter Isabella, all live in Lemoore. He and Gloria met when they were classmates at Coalinga College.