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Luna names Lalla acting president

Serna departs amid positive indicators

By Dave Kavanaugh

Dr. Sharon Lalla, currently Luna Community College’s vice president for instruction, has been appointed acting president of the college while the search for a permanent president nears its conclusion.

The LCC Board of Trustees made the appointment as part of its regular February meeting Thursday night, amid an agenda that was short but filled with significant items. Among them: the presentation of the college’s audit for the 2018 fiscal year, approval of a quarterly report for the state Higher Education Department and the official release of interim President Ricky Serna.

Lalla, who oversees the college’s academic and vocational departments, will take on the additional duties of acting president effective on Monday, Feb. 11. Lalla, who came to Luna after time as a faculty member and administrator at New Mexico State University, has served as an LCC vice president for instruction since July 2016.

“My current vision is a six-week vision,” said Lalla, alluding to Luna’s effort to secure its current accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, a process that will require submission of an argument by March 1. “We want to be as transparent and as informative as possible across campus and in the community … We will have a lot of collaboration.”

Lalla will take over for Serna, who has accepted a position within the administration of newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham.

Serna has served as Luna’s interim president since July 2017. In that time, the college, issued a show-cause order from its accrediting agency that same year, has worked to improve its status to probationary, remaining accredited while striving to address the issues that prompted the original show-cause order. Further, the college is poised to exit a state-imposed enhanced fiscal oversight program and at-risk list after posting an unmodified audit opinion – the best opinion that can be assessed by auditors – for fiscal year 2018. In more evidence of institutional stability, the latest enrollment figures for spring semester 2019 – a headcount of 1,065 with a total credit hour production of 7,690 – compare favorably with this past fall (1,065 and 7,564, respectively). Generally, college enrollments take a slight dip from fall to spring, but with headcount identical and credit hours up, there is optimism that Luna could be halting or even reversing a recent trend of declines. Serna’s legacy at Luna also will be noted for commitment to shared governance on campus and the formulation of a strategic plan focusing on student retention and completion, both fostered by the board of trustees.

Several trustees paid tribute to Serna on Thursday night as they formally accepted his resignation.

Serna demonstrated “a great amount of professionalism” and “ability to communicate at all levels,” said board member Abelino Montoya. “I’m astounded at his ability to do what he does.”

Chairman Daniel Romero told Serna, “Luna benefitted from you and your leadership.” And board member Kenny Medina said, “I commend him for his hard work,” wishing him luck in his next position.

Trustees devoted time in Thursday’s closed executive session to discussing its ongoing presidential search. The board is considering seven finalists, all with academic doctorate degrees – Nicholas Akinkuoye, Arturo Cervantes, Anthony Hancock, Robert Munoz, Diana Pino, Rolando Rael and LeRodrick Terry. In its nationwide search, the board has enlisted the services of an independent consulting firm; a search-and-screen committee with representation of students, faculty, staff and community members; and a series of public forums with each candidate, providing a process for anonymous feedback. The search has been active since mid-2018.

Under state law, the board may take final action to select the president 21-30 days after having published the finalists for the position. The board announced finalists in its Jan. 29 meeting, with publication in both local and statewide newspapers having taken place on or before Feb. 3.

Trustees also heard from Mark Santiago, a representative of Ricci & Co., the independent auditors who recently gave the college an unmodified audit opinion. Santiago praised the college’s efforts for the clean audit: “It means your accounting team not only is doing its day-to-day job but also (focused on) the big picture … My hat’s off to Luna.”