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Struggling L.A. Trade Tech headed for fresh start with new president

Los Angeles Trade Technical College
A new president, Katrina VanderWoude, has been selected for Los Angeles Trade Technical College, shown here in 2018.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Trade Technical College, which has struggled with financial and grading scandals over the last few years, is headed for a fresh start with a new president.

Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez announced Monday that he had chosen Katrina VanderWoude, former president of Contra Costa College, to head the campus after a months-long search and town hall meetings. Trustees will vote on the selection Wednesday.

In his announcement to the campus community, Rodriguez said VanderWoude had more than 20 years of administrative experience focusing on academic affairs, career and technical education and workforce development.

She headed Contra Costa College for a year before stepping down last August and also served as vice president of academic affairs at Grossmont College in El Cajon and vice provost at Rochester College in Michigan. A graduate of Michigan State University, with degrees in social work and psychology, VanderWoude earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University.

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If approved by trustees, VanderWoude will start her job on Feb. 24. She could not be reached for comment.

She will lead a campus that educates some of the most disadvantaged students in Los Angeles. Among 13,400 students, three-fourths are the first in their families to attend college and a majority are low-income. About 70% of students are Latino and nearly 15% are African American, according to state data for spring 2019. About 39% of students earned certificates, degrees or transfer status in 2017, outcomes she will be expected to improve.

VanderWoude also will take on a campus that has been bitterly divided over leadership and several scandals. Internal district investigations in 2017 found that college officials had falsified grades in a pilot program to help underprepared students improve their math skills and failed to justify $157,000 they received from 2014 to 2017 through a U.S. Department of Labor grant. College and district officials have denied any wrongdoing.

Last year, some Trade Tech faculty supported a petition of no confidence against then-President Laurence B. Frank accusing him of “intentionally and repeatedly” misleading faculty about campus scandals and ignoring wrongdoing.

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Frank, a former Los Angeles deputy mayor, declined an interview request at the time and resigned from Trade Tech last July to launch economic and workforce development initiatives for the district. But the no-confidence effort, representing a minority of the faculty, further inflamed campus divisions.

Deirdre Wood McDermott, chairwoman of Trade Tech’s language arts and humanities department who presented the petition to board trustees, said Monday she is “cautiously hopeful” that VanderWoude will lead efforts to heal the divisions, rebuild trust, deepen support for students and increase transparency about campus practices.

“Our students are the most vulnerable in the city and they deserve the best,” Wood McDermott said.

Artemio Navarro, head of the campus Academic Senate, could not be reached for comment. But Wood McDermott and other Trade Tech faculty said they were keeping an open mind about controversy surrounding VanderWoude’s resignation from Contra Costa College. After just nine months on the job, she was placed on administrative leave last May pending an investigation into complaints filed about her by college employees, the East Bay Times reported. She resigned last August.

Officials with the Contra Costa Community College District declined to specify the nature of the complaints. But the African American Staff Assn. posted an article last August alleging that VanderWoude was targeted because she sought to diversify campus leadership with more administrators of color. In March 2019, the association alleged, she was hit with a “trumped-up employee complaint” charging her with reverse racism, age discrimination and retaliation.

Contra Costa district spokesman Tim Leong said Monday that the district had completed its investigation into the complaints but “given her decision to resign, we have closed the investigation and have no other plans to take further actions on this matter.”


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