By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A crowd of people flocked to Clinton Community College Tuesday night to show their support of faculty and staff tagged for layoff in 2013-14.
For more than an hour at the start of the college’s Board of Trustees meeting, current and former students of the college, as well as parents, faculty and community members, took turns telling the board what an asset Athletic Coach Donna Dixon; Associate Professor of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Angela Alphonso; and Assistant Professor of Humanities Ian M. Burcroff are to the school.
“It saddens me to think that many wonderful faculty will lose their jobs due to the financial crunches of the college,” said Kim Lashway, a graduate of Clinton Community and mother of two children who currently participate in programs at the school.
Dixon, Alphonso and Burcroff are three of 10 CCC faculty and staff members who learned in November that they would lose their jobs due to the college’s anticipated $600,000 budget gap for next school year.
”Donna’s everything you could ask for in a coach,” Karissa House-Devins, a former student who played soccer and basketball at the college under Dixon’s leadership, told the board.
Dixon, who also works part time as an admissions adviser at Clinton Community, has served as coach of the college’s women’s soccer and basketball teams since 1995 and as coach of the school’s softball team at various times over the last seven years.
However, House-Devins and many of Dixon’s other former athletes testified that she has served as much more than just their coach.
“She was voluntarily on call for all of her players,” House-Devins said. “We looked to her for information and advice in a very critical time in our lives ... She taught us to be involved in our communities and to give back.”
Many of Dixon’s athletes noted that they wouldn’t be the people they are today without having had her in their lives.
“Donna is truly an amazing person. She is one of the few faculty members that truly had an impact on my life ,” said Kim’s daughter, Emily Lashway, whom Dixon recruited to play soccer at CCC.
In addition, Kim told the board that Donna held the bar high for students both on and off the field and even enforced mandatory study sessions to ensure athletes’ grades were up to par.
”Donna’s basketball, softball and soccer players have a graduation rate of 48 percent,” she said. “The average college graduation rate for the average Clinton student is 28 percent.”
A number of students said they would not have attended Clinton Community College if it weren’t for Dixon taking an interest in their athletic abilities in high school.
”Donna has recruited so many women athletes since she first started coaching, numbers that should be looked into and considered as part of her contribution to Clinton Community College.
”Our college can not afford this loss and students do not deserve it,” Emily said. “Rethinking this decision would be in the best interest of the current and future students of Clinton. It would be a shame to see Donna Dixon’s gift leave our community college.”
And with tears in her eyes, House-Devins told Dixon, who listened from the audience, of how respected she is among those she has coached.
”If things don’t work out the way you want them to, I hope it gives you some sense of accomplishment and happiness to know that so many of us are here because we see you as a significant role model in our lives, and we can only hope to be just an ounce of the person you are today,” she said.
In addition, Kim told the board she was surprised to hear that Alphonso was slated to lose her job at the school, as she is loved by her students and is the only person on campus certified to teach the classes she does.
“I’ve never known of anyone more professional and passionate with her work and commitment for her students.
“Mrs. Alphonso’s classes are always full,” Kim said. “This clearly tells me the demand and need for her class is big and the person teaching it is effective and respected in her field by students, colleagues and community.”
Several individuals also voiced concerns that laying off Burcroff, who serves as faculty adviser to the college’s Art Club, would deny many future students access to valuable art education.
”It is disheartening that there is a possibility that these art courses may not be an option for future Clinton Community College students,” said Ashley Lester, vice president of the school’s Art Club.
Adjunct Humanities Instructor Judith Corigliano also spoke on Burcroff’s behalf, telling the board she has seen the Humanities Department grow and flourish in her time at the college, partly as a result of Burcroff’s “unselfish vision.”
And as a result of the Art Club, she said, students at the college have had the valuable opportunities like being able to visit major museums.
When the public-comment portion of the meeting came to an end, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Nina Coolidge thanked those who spoke for expressing their thoughts and caring about the college.
”Your board of trustees that are sitting here this evening are people who care about it as well,” she said.
Coolidge noted that reductions in state aid and declining enrollment have limited the college’s sources of income, which has been difficult.
However, she said, it is possible that some of the individuals identified for layoff may be asked to stay on if college enrollment numbers increase.
“Those people may not in the end all be laid off because if enrollment increases and we have what we need, we certainly will keep what we have,” she said. “We know what we have is good.”
Board member David Favro added that he was impressed with the way the young women who spoke on behalf of the college’s employees demonstrated themselves.
“You are the iconic model of what we want in students at Clinton Community College,” he said. “Clearly that’s a testimony to Donna (Dixon) and the people that have taught you. You make these decisions very very very difficult.”
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