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Transcripts - Episode 03: Keith Curry

Updated: Apr 30

Transcripts

Episode 03: Keith Curry

Naomi Castro

Hi, I'm Naomi Castro and this is the castropod. This season I talk with college presidents and nonprofit leaders who are getting it done. I want to learn how they do it. Do what? It! The thing, the thing that moves the needle.

Just claim that million-dollar prize. They should write the check now because Compton is going to get it. I've known Dr. Curry since back in the day before he was president, and he has accomplished some really impressive things. Like did you know he lost over 100 pounds? But even more impressive, he and this amazing team of folks brought Compton College back to being an accredited college. So what kind of leader is he? Listen in and find out.

Naomi Castro [June 26, 2019]

So I am here at Compton College. It's a beautiful June day, nice and cool in California. And Compton College has just begun as of June 7, correct?

Keith Curry

Correct.

Naomi Castro

June 7th is its own independent college once again, and I'm here with President Curry, Dr. Keith Curry, and we're going to talk and learn some stuff. And I also, full disclosure, I teach at Compton on on Saturdays, in my free time.

Keith Curry

We don't have that we don't have that much free time in this business.

Naomi Castro

This is true.

Keith Curry

I think a lot of times we I think we stay engaged in a lot of things in community college, because we'd love it so much, right? And in education. So we thought about this your free time, I think you do it because it's part of your love and your passion. And it keeps you engaged with what the students are doing. And that's why I teach at Cal State Fullerton, right?

I teach at Cal State Fullerton to students who are individuals who are in a community college system or want to be in a community college system and want to be an administrator, a senior level, administrator in a community college system, and I teach to that because in that program, because I feel like this way for me give me back, even though I know I have no time. No patience. But I know how when I get into that room for my Thursday night class, how important it is for me to be there.

And even some of my stories I'm able to share with the students, which I think they're not a big deal. But there's some people who think, wow, that happened. Because you don't hear about, you don't hear about real life stories as community college administrators. And a lot of times you hear you read about theory as your doctor program, but the practical piece of it, because sometimes you make decisions that you need to you need to talk to someone who's been through it before. So then, you know, you can read in a book about what to do and how to make decisions. However, in certain situations, you need to talk to someone who's been through it, who say, look, this is what happened with me, however, if I could do differently, I would do it this way. And that will give you a lot more insight that will give to this insight. So that's why I do it teaching that program.

Naomi Castro

And any somebody, do you have folks that you can call on yourself?

Keith Curry

Yeah, you know, when I started out in this business, as a dean, I was begun building relationships and I became a CEO I started building more relationships, and so I have some retired community college presidents who I can call. I have some current community college presidents who I can call as well for insight. Because you know, we're colleagues, right, so now, I'm able calling my colleagues for assistance in inside of things that they're that I might be that I'm dealing with, that they might have some history in.

And so I have a lot of conversation now with my colleagues about housing, food insecurity, Guided Pathways, and the implementation of Guided Pathways, Strong Workforce, but we're starting to have more conversations, because there's a lot that's going on in our colleges. And there's that's been asked of us by the state legislators, and then also by the Chancellor's Office, that you know, sometimes you need to talk to some people to see, okay, how are you doing at your campus and get some insight, and that's helpful for me. So when I first started out is more so looking at retirees. Now I'm calling more of my colleagues.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, cuz things are changing, right? So some of our retired colleagues might not have experienced in what we're going through.

Keith Curry

They might have experienced what we, correct. But they have experience with how to, the key with it for me is that they, they've been through a lot with regards to participatory governance, and just trying to move the needle. So you can ask those types of questions like, how are you able to move change and administer change? And now with what's going on is kind of good to have conversations with our, my colleagues about how you implemented Guided Pathways. What's your thoughts on Strong Workforce, long term and workforce development? How do you organize your campus around all these initiatives, when you just try and make sure students register for classes? Right?

So it's very good, interesting conversations, but also be able to build relationships, with your president colleagues, because now you're having more conversation, instead of saying, hi, you're saying you have a conversation, get to know more about their campus, but also getting to know more about them as leaders.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, that's so helpful. So you've talked a little bit about your journey just now. But you so you weren't always a college president? You're born that way?

Keith Curry

No, no I wasn’t. You know, my background starts in education, Outreach, recruitment of students and I started out working at a grant out of undergrad at UC Irvine, for the Center for Educational Partnerships, work with the Early Academic Outreach Program, help students from Compton go to college. And so that was my introduction to this community, right. And so I started out as an outreach person, and I understand outreach, right. But I knew outreach wasn't a career, right.

Student Services is a career but Outreach is a is a part of a job, but it's one of the best jobs you can have right out of college, because you know, you're able to meet a lot of people in Outreach in some of the high school counselors and principals in Compton. I've known them for almost 20 years because of my first job, right? And so they need something he said my same cell phone number that I had when I work in Outreach. And so it was a great introduction to this community and also into education. And but I will tell you that when I started in Outreach and I moved to, I came to Compton College in 2000 as a Dean of Student Services, and then became a CEO in 2011, and President/CEO in 2017.

So my journey has been to the position has been, some people say, yo, you became a president pretty quickly. And I was like, no, maybe, however, I work 60 to 65 hours a week. And there's been a lot of long days. And there's a lot of decisions to be made every day. And so you have to understand the bigger picture before you make those decisions. Because, you know, some decisions you think are very simple, but they're not, right? You have to unpack a lot. You have to really think through some of these decisions.

And I think college presidents, some college presidents, have gotten in trouble when they don't unpack some of their decisions, right? So for example, one of the things I've been struggling with over the last two years is how do you organize yourself around all these statewide initiatives? Because there's so much that you have to do. And everyone talks about Guided Pathways as the that's the movement. And it is the movement, it is a part of it. But I've been so focused on a Completion by Design model from the Gates Foundation, and really just trying to organize our campus around the student experience, which is a different conversation. Right?

So I would challenge people regards to, as college presidents, how do you organize your institution to ensure that you meet the needs of the students as relates to their experience? Right? It really started look at your organization of your campus, not look at the initiatives. Right? And that's tough, right? Because we look at the initiative if you're looking at a checkbox, right? You asked me to implement AB 19, AB 2 for College Promise? Checkbox, I have a College Promise Program done. Let's move to the next day. But how does that cause Promise Program impact the work you’re doing in AB 705? Right? So those are things you have to you have to connect the pieces, right? And it also how you connect it to the funding formula, right? So with the funding formula, you have to connect those momentum points of your students to how you get funded for their completion. Right? So you have a student whose need nine units to complete a CTE. So now you start to get your CTE programs, and say okay, where our students are at and why some of our student that completed nine units? The response would be, you know, what, last year's a career technical education, when they get to eight, they're able to get a job, right. So what do we do to engage those students to come back to take the higher level courses in the evening while they work during the day? Right?

Because we’re talking about the student experience? We have too many students who are in California Community Colleges, who are not completing a degree in a timely manner.

Naomi Castro

Yeah.

Keith Curry

But you have to look at the experience. Right not look at the initiatives. You want to fold the initiatives into your, the student experience. You want to map that through to Completion by Design model.

Naomi Castro

I'm sold, let's do it.

Keith Curry

So that's what we're doing on a campus, right? So our campus has been last year, we adopted the Completion by Design. So we call it the Tartar Completion by Design is included in our updated Compton 2024 Educational Comprehensive Master Plan, that includes facilities and also educational plan. And so that was approved by the Board at the last board meeting in June.

So I'm really excited about that, because that is to me, that's our blueprint to move forward. And we call it a Compton 2024 because we want to be one of the leading institutions in the country by 2024. And be an Aspen winner. And so by the plan, oh, our job is to execute that plan. Right? But it goes back to that's what we've been struggling with, and not looking at initiatives as a checkmark, but looking at how you transform your college and organize your college in order to meet the needs of students through their experience.

Naomi Castro

Yeah. That's brilliant. It's fantastic.

Keith Curry

Hopefully it works. But if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to say, you know what, it didn't work. Let's figure out another way to do this. But my gut tells me based off of the research from the Gates Foundation, regards to Completion by Design, that that it is gonna work, right. And, and now it's just time to execute it. And don't get too caught up in these, these other initiatives are coming down, right?

And I look at the initiatives that come in through Sacramento, and also coming through from the Academic Senate. And they're not bad. The question is, how do you organize them within what you're already doing? Right? And the key for us is looking at the connection, right? So if you have the College Promise Program for your students, you also wanna make sure you connect to the high schools with your programs. And that connects you to AB 288, right? So AB 288 is about dual enrollment, right? So how do you effectively offer dual enrollment at your high schools? So one of the things we're doing is that we're offering nine through 12 dual enrollment but it has to be a part of a pathway, right? So when they're part of a pathway that you're not having stand-alone course at high schools, because what happens is you have these stand-alone courses where you are just trying to increase enrollment, which is fine for your students. But you want to see your students who are doing dual enrollment complete that pathway, or come close to it.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, so the goals in sight, even if they're not completed, it's, hey, it's only one more class, it's only two more classes, you're almost there.

Keith Curry

And you come to Compton College, be a part of the Promise Program and go to college with your fees are waived, and you receive support for your books. You do that for one year, then transfer to a four-year college university and be there for two years. That means you go to colleges for three years, you save one year for you say one year. Financially, that's significant. But you have to think that way about the student experience. And don't change up. You know, it's like there's all these initiatives, you fold these initiatives into what you're trying to do at your institution, at your institution.

Naomi Castro

And then when you stay focused like that, you know, you can get everybody on board towards the same goal looking in the same direction. But do you how do you find it, building that knowledge on campus and building that, that that focus, like we are all focused on this goal, this is where we're going.

Keith Curry

You just have to keep talking about it. Right? Keep talking about it over and over and over again. And just keep talking a keep having conversations, and never change your points, your talking points. Just keep talking about it and everything you do. You want to make sure it connects to that. So for example, we have a College Futures Foundation, grant proposal. So we have we received $131,000, to work on a larger grant around Compton 2024. So all of our objectives, they want to meet by 2024 are included in the planning proposal, and will also be included in the grant. So that means your goals are all aligned.

Naomi Castro

And so many organizations or institutions will chase funding that dilutes their goal.

Keith Curry

And then they go and they go away from those goals. And then by going away from those goals, you focus on that to make sure you keep the money.

Naomi Castro

Yeah.

Keith Curry

So if someone wants give us money, you give us money, that's gonna support Compton 2024 and our goals. If it's not, then we don't, we're not gonna take your money.

Naomi Castro

Yeah.

Keith Curry

Because what happens is you start to move away from what your intended outcome. Our goal is about completion right now. And we have to be focused on completion. Student completion, that's number one. Our student completion rates at 35% over a six year period. That's unacceptable. Especially at an institution that 60% are LatinX and 25% are African American, we have to do better.

Naomi Castro

So that actually brings me to this other question and it was the first thing that kind of got me thinking about reaching out to some of my colleagues to learn from them. And that is, when we have these organizations, these institutions, we, we want to keep on target, on goal, on message. And in the business world, they might call it branding sometimes, but like, you know, the Compton approach to doing things, the Compton goals.

But we were mission driven. And so when we hire these amazing folks to do this work, a lot of them really value autonomy. They kind of they don't want to be necessarily in line with everything. They want to be have enough freedom to do the job that we hired them to do. And sometimes there could be a contradiction there. Hopefully there isn't. But there could be. So how do you how do you find that Goldilocks zone between giving really great employees that that kind of autonomy, letting them do their thing, but also being a unified - unified goals, unified mission, unified approach?

Keith Curry

I think most leaders struggle with that, right? Because the especially as community college presidents, the accountability that's on us right now, is so high, and so you have to be more engaged with what's going on on your campus in all areas.

And so let me give you an example this right of what some of the things that cause pressing. The key, the community college system structure that was built over 100 years ago in California, was not built for students of color. Right? So what we have been doing in community colleges for the last 20-30-40 years, is figuring out new ways to address the changes in our demographics, right? Instead of saying, you know, what, the structure that was built was not built for students of color, and we're going to change the structure at our community college campuses.

So the structure was not built for students of color. And so what we've been doing is we've been looking at changes - a new initiative to address those student’s needs, instead of saying, you know what, let's blow this thing up. And let’s restructure our institutions to meet those needs, so and my campus company, college, we're, we're all in with Completion by Design. That means the old structure that we had, we looked at the siloed, academic affairs, Student Services, Academic Services, HR, it’s not siloed. Right?

And it's important for me, that that's why I have to be involved, to ensure that there's no silos being created. Because things that are happening, HR, affect all the areas. Things that are happening Business Services affects all the areas, these are happening in Academic Affairs and Student Services affects all the areas. So how do you break down those silos? And the way the funding is set up, now, we're forced to break down those silos. And that's how you're able to, from my perspective, change community colleges and focus on the new demographics. And that to me is critical, because the structure was built was not built for our, the students we have now and all we've been doing is trying to create new initiatives to meet those needs and say say, you know what the current service we have don’t work. Let's fix it.

And that's why AB 705 is going to be it's going to work help us a lot, because we're looking at students who are not going to be in those lower level math and English courses. And we have to figure out ways to provide them more support to ensure that they're successful. And how do you have those types of conversations? And how does that link to what you do with your College Promise program? Because that means your College Promise students when they come on your campus, you're taking transfer level English and math that first year, then what type of support you provide for them? What type of support you providing for students who are in dual enrollment at the local high schools, or taking transfer level courses. Most colleges are not providing that academic support for those students.

So how do you provide those support for those students? Because those are college classes. Right? Again, the structure was not built for the student that we have now. So now we have to do different ways to be able to provide those support that are ongoing and not short term.

So I want to blow up the system.

Naomi Castro

Right. Let's do it. I'm on board.

I get I've got two basic, more questions that I'm going to I'm going to ask in the time that we got. The first is, if I've learned anything through this, this journey here, it's that effective leaders, successful leaders are always learning. They keep learning. And so I'm wondering if there's, if there's a book that you're into right now, maybe something you're recommending to folks, if there's a podcast, if there's something that you're learning right now that you're like, oh, yeah, this is this is what I need.

Keith Curry

I wouldn’t say it’s something I'm learning right now, but I think what I've been, I've been so focused on with Completion by Design, Guided Pathways, that, but you know, it really changed me the last two or two years, maybe it been two or three was the Paying the Price book by Sarah Goldrick-Rab at Temple University. And so it's about housing and food insecurity. And so I've been so locked in on this issue, because our students on our campus are dealing with that. And so you can't expect a student who doesn't have food, doesn’t have a place to live to pass your transfer level math class, right if you don't provide them with support.

And that's why we look at our 2024 plan. We looked at building residential housing, right. That's why we have the food pantry. But we're also working with the County where we're able to offer the CalFresh program on our campus through our restaurant, we're also gonna be doing more, cafeteria sorry, we also will be doing CalFresh signups on our campus. We're looking at new initiatives with LA County to be able to work with those students who are in need, but really started looking at housing, food insecurity, to help deal with to help support our students, because we look our student population and poverty within our community. It's out there, right?

But as educators, we can't be so focused on our student need to pass transfer level math, no that there's a reason why some are not passing. You provide a whole lot of support, but there don’t have food, they’re not gonna pass. If you're hungry, you're trying to figure out you'll get that next meal. You're not thinking about what's gonna be on that next test? So we want to break down some of these barriers, then if the barriers, some of the work that we're doing is outside of education.

And that's gonna be that's gonna be a challenge for some people.

Naomi Castro

Well, in my Education 101 class right here, we talked about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Yeah, you got to feed people, they got to know that they're going to have a place to sleep at night before they can open their brain to learning higher order thinking skills and all of that.

Keith Curry

Yeah, you have to open your brain to it, but also to show that you care, right? They have seen so many people who don't care about them, who give them who's said they’re gonna do something for them and never do it. And so when you provide that support, you got to make sure that you know this ongoing, so like our food pantry, one of my things is always making sure that that thing is fully stocked. Because one day that is not stocked that a student needs food, they’re gonna say what's going on here? I needed you you weren't there for me. So I'm always on my staff to make sure that we have that that food pantry fully stocked.

Naomi Castro

That's great. That's great. Um, I have a couple of rapid-fire questions.

Keith Curry

Go for it.

Naomi Castro

Don't think too much about it. Coffee or tea?

Keith Curry

Neither.

Naomi Castro

What do you drink in the morning?

Keith Curry

I drink water. I don't drink coffee nor tea.

Naomi Castro

Okay, I'm gonna take a segue from the rapid-fire. You have also had a fitness journey.

Keith Curry

Yeah, I lost 125 pounds.

Naomi Castro

In how much time?

Keith Curry

In like nine months, but I gained 15 back because I started lifting weights and I like lifting weights. So but it's fine, but I like to work out.

Naomi Castro

How does it how does that it support or detract from your work here at Compton?

Keith Curry

It doesn't. It just give me something else to do. I like Spartan Races. So that gives me my little break in my gym for my two hours are the best hours in the world.

Naomi Castro

If I don't work out, well I follow you on Facebook and so I get motivated when I see your Spartan Races and things like that.

Keith Curry

And also as the food too right? So I make sure I watch my food intake and I have someone who makes my my healthy lunch, so I'm trying to just be better at it because I don't have a heart attack doing this job, right? I see a lot of people who don't take care of themselves, and they sacrifice their livelihood for their institution, which I love my institution, but at the same time, I got a lot of a lot people that depend on me outside this institution. So I want to get better at that. But I don't drink coffee nor tea. Right. And most people laugh at me on that one.

Naomi Castro

No, it's it's great. It's admirable. I am I if I don't go to the gym a couple times a week, I just turned into a stress monkey. So I need it for my job.

Back to rapid fire, Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Keith Curry

Neither I like rap music. So I'm a huge rap music fan from the ‘90s. So it’s kind of you can't get me off of that station.

Naomi Castro

Excellent. Who you listened to now,

Keith Curry

it all depends on the mood. But earlier this week, I was listening to Tupac and then I listen to DJ Quik this morning, because I was for some reason I had this Compton feeling the day so I want to hear did a quick so this is a quick on the way work

Naomi Castro

Ever I hear Kendrick Lamar or do sightings of him in Compton?

Keith Curry

Oh, a Spartan Race, my first Spartan Race. I spent $100 or $115 in Sacramento, and I flew up there from my first Spartan Race last fall. And I'm now done 10 races since then. And so that introduced me to a whole nother level of really pushing yourself. And so I've done a Beast, which is 13 miles and Big Bear was super hard. I've done a couple of Super Races. I did, I did a race in San Jose, Monterey, Las Vegas. Just trying to you know, just get better at it and have a lot more scheduled for the rest of the year. I think it's a great thing.

Naomi Castro

Yeah I agree. I agree. We talked about that a lot in class too.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Keith Curry

You know, I used to like that, that sherbet one, the one that had the different colors and all that rainbow.

Naomi Castro

Rainbow sherbet?

Keith Curry

Yeah, but then I now you know, whenever I do that ice cream. I like the butter pecan. Yeah, so that kind of got me thinking different.

Naomi Castro

And then what is the best $100 or less that you've ever spent,

Keith Curry

Oh, a Spartan Race, my first Spartan Race. I spent $100 or $115 in Sacramento, and I flew up there from my first Spartan Race last fall. And I'm now done 10 races since then. And so that introduced me to a whole nother level of really pushing yourself. And so I've done a Beast, which is 13 miles and Big Bear was super hard. I've done a couple Super Races. I did, I did a race in San Jose, Monterey, Las Vegas. Just trying to you know, just get better at it and have a lot more scheduled for the rest of the year.

But it's the best money spent because it gave me another opportunity to push myself. I push myself academically. I put myself at the gym, but to be out running and doing obstacles was I lost 125 pounds right now. Now I'm trying to be a fit person climbing walls, right? And now I'm doing back to backs I do a super I do a sprint the next day. So now I'm pushing myself So, to do more.

Naomi Castro

That's fantastic. Yeah.

Keith Curry

Money well spent

Naomi Castro

Money well spent. Excellent. Excellent. Well, is there any other anything …

Keith Curry

What’s my guilty pleasure?

Naomi Castro

Oh, yeah. Yeah, we could do that one.

Keith Curry

Is some really good Mexican food is my guilty pleasure. You got, you gotta you got to figure you have to figure that one out. But it is Mexican Food is my guilty pleasure.

Oh, one thing I will tell you as you talk about leadership, and I know about in a couple minutes, is is that leaders right now coworking because there's, there's a lack of leaders, right. And I think it's very important that the current leaders mentor the rising stars, and the individual who wants this job. And I spend a lot of time mentoring and talking to people about my experience, because I'm hopeful that we can have more leaders who think like us, and who understand that we're in this job or in this position to help the students from our community and really push that agenda to help these students.

These students in California Community Colleges deserve better. They deserve, especially at my campus, there's no way our students 35% of our students should be completed within six years, we have to increase that number, right? Because our students deserve better. We want to see our students completely come back on our community, as faculty members as individual who are voting in the elections, we want to see them be contributing to this community.

And we have to look at it differently. And we have to, right now is a time for change.

And Compton 2024 is a campaign that I'm pushing, because we are going to be the best community college in the state of California. We will win an Aspen award as one of the outstanding community college.

And people say how you know you're gonna win it? I say, most people didn’t think we're gonna be accredited. We did that. Most people didn’t think we'll hold the first graduation at Compton College, we did that. Most people don't think that we will separate from El Camino Community College District. We did that. Most people didn’t think that we can build new facilities on our If we did that. Most people, they would pass a bond $400 million, when we were not accredited, we did that 2014 with a 78.39% approval rating, the highest approval rate of any communications bond, instead of California history that was placed on a ballot.

So don't what we can well, what we want to do. Because everything that you doubt that we couldn't do, we did. So now give us the Aspen award, and give us a check for $1 million. They can just write the check now, because we're gonna win. So either you're gonna be with us, or we got to prove it to you by 2024. But we're gonna do it.

Naomi Castro

And that's around the corner.

Keith Curry

That's around the corner.

Naomi Castro

All right.

Keith Curry

And we have a plan already.

Naomi Castro

Yeah, let's get it.

Keith Curry

Let's get it. Alright thank you very much.

Naomi Castro

Thank you so much. Thank you.

The biggest takeaway I had from our conversation was the power of a single focus. Don't let other initiatives or money or mandates let you lose that focus that and claim your prize. Go get it. The book, Dr. Curry recommended, Paying the Price, and links to some of the organizations and frameworks he mentions are all in the show notes. And there's a pretty good playlist too. You can also check out the transcripts at castropod.com

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