Hartnell Superintendent/President Dr. Willard Lewallen Announces Intent to Retire in September 2019

Publish Date: 
Jan 4, 2019
Dr. Willard Lewallen

Governing Board Plans National Search for Successor

Dr. Willard Lewallen, superintendent/president of the Hartnell Community College District for nearly seven years, announced today, Jan. 4, that he will retire in September, culminating a 40-year career in higher education.

The Hartnell district, which serves the greater Salinas Valley including north and south Monterey County, plans to launch a national search for its next executive, with the goal of having a successor in place when Lewallen steps down effective Sept. 30.

Aurelio Salazar Jr., president of the HCCD Governing Board, thanked Lewallen for providing “sound leadership throughout his tenure.”

“The board will work diligently to find a successor grounded in the same vision around student achievement and success,” Salazar said.

Since Lewallen joined Hartnell in May 2012, the college has made steep gains in student success, implemented a $167 million bond-funded construction and modernization plan, achieved fundraising levels that outpace even much larger California community colleges, and established strong alliances with industry and educational institutions at all levels.

Compared with the 2011-12 academic year, completion of degrees by Hartnell students is up by 159 percent, completion of certificates of achievement has increased 231 percent, the number of students transferring to four-year institutions has grown by 63 percent, and 54 percent more students are attending from high schools in the HCCD. During that same period, college enrollment grew by less than 2 percent. Hartnell enrolls approximately 17,000 students a year.

Hartnell, which is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution, has also won national recognition as a top producer of minority graduates.

Lewallen credits these and other gains to a pervasive college culture that supports what he calls a “students first” approach to actions and decisions.

“This college is filled with faculty, staff and administrators who have a relentless focus on student success and institutional effectiveness,” he said. “They have demonstrated unprecedented innovation and creativity in transforming lives, improving quality of life and strengthening families and communities.”

Along with strong and stable financial operations that Lewallen said have made Hartnell “the envy of most other districts,” initiatives undertaken with his leadership have aimed to either increase support services for students or expand their academic opportunities.

Among the outcomes: a 35 percent increase in full-time faculty positions, a 128 percent increase in the number of counselors, a 33 percent increase in support staff positions and establishment of new academic and support programs that include tutoring centers known as Panther Learning Labs and the state’s first community college center for undocumented students, called Mi CASA (Center for Achievement and Student Advancement).

Working closely with California State University, Monterey Bay, Lewallen provided leadership for the 2013 launch of CSin3, a cohort-based computer science program that leads to a bachelor’s degree in three years. In the three annual cohorts that have completed the program so far, more than 75 percent graduated in three years compared with a 25 percent four-year graduation rate for the entire California State University system. 

Also in partnership with CSUMB, Lewallen provided leadership for the 2016 launch of the Teacher Preparation Pathway, a cohort-based program that is addressing the severe teacher shortage in Salinas Valley schools. He said the TPP is preparing the next generation of elementary school teachers by “growing our own from the talented and motivated individuals who reside in our communities.”

On Hartnell’s Alisal Campus, Lewallen has guided continued development of agriculture and technology offerings and strengthening ties to the Salinas Valley agriculture industry through programs that meet the workforce development needs of the industry.

Lewallen thanked the district’s elected trustees for their support and said the board’s stable, consistent guidance has been essential to Hartnell’s success. Four of the board’s seven current members were serving when he was appointed.

One of those long-serving trustees, Candi DePauw, who represents Area 7 in far southern Monterey County, returned the praise to Lewallen. She said he will be “sorely missed” when he retires.

“Six years ago Hartnell College was in need of dynamic leadership to launch the college to its full potential. Dr. Lewallen answered that call and then some,” DePauw said. “His leadership and management style not only attracted new talent, but unleashed existing talent that was never fully appreciated. 

“Now there is a dedicated faculty-administration-staff base that is the glue of the college, and they have taken Hartnell to national recognition.  As well, he has been instrumental in strengthening the connection with local industry and the community.”

Fellow Trustee Erica Padilla-Chavez, who serves Area 6 that stretches from Chualar to Soledad, said Lewallen has “done a great job in ensuring that our college prepares the next generation of leaders.”

“Our educational outcomes are the best they’ve ever been, our spirit of innovation has led to outstanding programs such as the Teacher Pathway Program, and we are recognized for our commitment to equitable access to higher education.”

In particular, Padilla-Chavez pointed to the planned construction of a new education outreach center in Soledad as a “true testament of his leadership and spirit of partnership.” 

The 16,900-square-foot Soledad center is one of five currentprojects funded through Measure T, a bond measure approved by voters in 2016. The other projects are: a 12,270 -square-foot expansion of the King City Education Center, construction of a new 24,000-square-foot home for Hartnell’s Nursing and Allied Health programs, modernization of classrooms in buildings D and E and the central quad on the Main Campus in Salinas, and construction of an approximately 12,000-square-foot outreach center for north Monterey County in Castroville. All are scheduled for completion by 2021.

Lewallen, who plans to remain in the Salinas area with his wife, Michele, said he expects to do some teaching and consulting during retirement. He said he is “not quite ready to leave behind” a career spent expanding opportunities for student success.

Lewallen began his education career in 1979 as an academic advisor at Purdue University. His California Community College career began as a faculty member and a dean at Antelope Valley College, where Michele Lewallen also began her career as a faculty member. He served as a vice president at Victor Valley College and as president at West Hills College before his appointment at Hartnell. 

In February 2018, Lewallen was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, as a member of its 1976 national championship baseball team, and in April, the university recognized him as a Distinguished Alumnus.

“It feels like the right time to pass the leadership reins,” Lewallen said. “Hartnell is about to begin its second 100 years, and I believe a new college leader should help chart that future.”

Other near-term milestones include the anticipated reaffirmation of the college’s accreditation for seven more years, following an evaluation visit in March, and launch of a new five-year strategic plan later this year.

“There is a tremendous sense of energy and optimism at Hartnell — a feeling that our future will be filled with continued success, and that Hartnell will continue moving from a college of excellence to one of pre-eminence as a result of unprecedented student achievement and success,” Lewallen said.

As he often does, he concluded with recognition of the college’s students.


“What truly makes Hartnell such a special place is the students, who demonstrate tremendous grit and determination in pursuing an education often against difficult personal backgrounds and challenges,” Lewallen said. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve our students, our communities and our employees.”