Greetings Forsyth Tech faculty and staff!
As we move into the last week of classes for spring semester, I want to share a few updates with you.
First, I just want to say, it is still hard for me to fathom how, in just two short weeks in March, you completely converted more than 850 sections of classes into distance learning, and moved all student support services to service-at-a-distance! Faculty, you continued to provide instruction as seamlessly as possible for the past four weeks – and now there is only one more week to go! Staff, you worked remotely, held team meetings by video, and continued college operations without missing a beat. If COVID-19 resulted in anything positive, it was how we all came together and delivered the impossible for our students. Once again, I am beyond proud and want to say thank you!
This is usually our most exciting time of year, as we eagerly look forward with great anticipation to commencement. While COVID-19 changed some things, it doesn’t have to diminish our support for our graduates. We can still raise that kind of excitement by participating in our Virtual Commencement on May 7, at 5 p.m. on Forsyth Tech’s YouTube channel.
The bookstore is mailing caps and gowns to any graduate who asks so they will have them in time for May 7. We also requested that students send us photos for a slide show and videos to share how they were celebrating graduation in their own way. Many thanks to the commencement committee, led by Lauren Christmas, Precious Nelson and Lisa Stanley-Smith who coordinated the effort to make this happen in less than a month! We are still committed to holding an in-person graduation ceremony later this summer or early fall, but we will have to continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and its impacts on large group gatherings before we can finalize those plans.
CARES Act Distribution
The federal government has approved the national CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) to provide financial help during this time. Money has been set aside for families, small businesses, and local governments to help all of us preserve jobs and get the economy growing again. In addition, students and community colleges will also benefit from this aid, individually and personally for our students, and as an institution. In total, we will receive approximately $4.9 million, with at least half of our allocation required to go directly to students. We will receive the first half, the portion earmarked for distribution directly to students first, and we have established a CARES Act task team to develop guidelines for how we will equitably distribute those monies to our students. As that plan is finalized, we will share more with you.
Protect All Employees Compensation – Extended through May 8
As you may recall, the new Communicable Disease Policy approved by our Board of Trustees in March allows me, as president, to protect employees’ pay for up to 30 days in the event of a crisis like COVID19. In response to the Governor’s stay-at-home order, I exercised this authority, protecting all employees’ pay through April 29. As you all know, the City of Winston-Salem extended our local stay-at-home order through May 7 and yesterday afternoon, our Governor extended the statewide order through May 8.
Our board met yesterday and confirmed their desire to continue to protect employees’ pay, and to that end, they have granted me the authority to continue to pay employees for up to 30 additional days as/if needed. Given the Governor’s announcement of an extension of the statewide stay-at-home order, and with the authority the Board gave me yesterday, I have approved an extension of our emergency pay provision through May 8.
Note: Due to the unique contract arrangements for some of our EWD faculty, they will receive a separate communication to cover their specific situations.
We are grateful to our Board for making it possible for employees to remain whole with respect to their regular pay. This is an unprecedented moment in our lives and in history, and the best we can do is to work through challenges together. Forsyth Tech remains committed to working with all employees to support you and your needs through this crisis, to the greatest extent possible.
Managers will continue to work with employees on telecommuting arrangements, as needed. Time entry and leave recording for April will follow the same process used in March. Review the process to complete time and leave reports.
Executive Leadership Team Updates
As you know, Wendy Emerson and Dr. Joel Welch have accepted positions outside Forsyth Technical Community College. Wendy accepted a new position at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and Joel will become President of Western Piedmont Community College in July. While we will miss their leadership, dedication, and commitment to Forsyth Tech, we are also happy for their new opportunities and wish them all the best in their new roles. Even in the midst of this COVID-19 situation, we are moving forward with the search for a new Vice President and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and a new Vice President and Chief Academic Officer (CAO), and I want to give you an update on where we are in the process.
The CFO position was posted last week, and we will begin interviewing candidates in late May with plans to have someone in place on July 1. During that search, we will not name an interim CFO, but rather I will be working closely with Executive Director for Finance, Melanie Nuckols, and the entire finance team to make sure our service and business operations continue efficiently and effectively. Additionally, we have decided to move all Financial Aid operations into the Student Success Services division under Vice President Masonne Sawyer’s leadership. This change involves three team members and will be effective May 1. We will not “settle,” but rather we will take the time we need to find a CFO to lead us forward with excellence.
The profile for the Chief Academic Officer is being finalized and will be posted within the next two weeks. I plan to offer virtual forums for you to share with us the characteristics we expect and need in our new CAO. I encourage you to sign up for a virtual forum and take the opportunity to ask questions and share your opinions – please let your voice be heard and inform our search. I anticipate naming an interim CAO in early June and hope to complete the process in July with a new CAO in place by August 1 if possible. However, once again, this is a critical role and we will not “settle.” We will find a student-centered CAO who will lead us toward tomorrow together, and with excellence.
In addition to beginning the search for our new executive leaders, I have made another structural change. Vice President Masonne Sawyer currently reports to Dr. Welch, but I have decided to make a change and have Masonne and the Student Success Services division report directly to me.
Re-Entry & Return to Campus Planning
With the stay-at-home order extended to May 8, it is time for us to “pivot” and develop plans for how we will re-enter our campuses and move away from an all-remote environment for learning and business operations. We have established a Return to our Brave New Normal team, led by Executive Director, Kristie Hendrix, to design and recommend a comprehensive plan to facilitate a smooth return to campus for all. I want to assure you that we will have a thoughtful plan that will keep us safe while allowing us to begin to return to some sense of normalcy. We do not anticipate an “overnight” or all-encompassing response, but rather a phased approach. As the team develops plans and decisions are made, we will share more information with you.
Mask the City
As you have probably heard, the city of Winston-Salem and Mayor Allen Joines have created a new initiative to Mask the City. We are all encouraged to wear a mask whenever we leave our house, at least through May. Forsyth Tech will do our part and support this effort, and our Foundation was given the opportunity to purchase 11 cases – just over 1,000 masks from the Mask the City initiative, and they immediately agreed.
We will begin distribution of the masks for part-time and full-time staff and faculty, beginning next week on in front of Allman on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – April 27, April 29, and May 1 – from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. We will give out the masks on a first-come, first-serve basis until we run out. The Executive Leadership Team will be there during those days and times to hand out masks while adhering to safety practices including social distancing. We ask that you drive up to the front of Allman, remain in your car, and lower your passenger window and we will hand you a mask. It is critically important to us that we help equip you with the tools to stay safe above all else.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead! As I said before, I have enjoyed talking with you in the Facebook Live sessions. I hope you will be able to join me for another Facebook Live for you at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Please join me if you can, to talk virtually with students and together help answer their questions! Also, we may offer a different day and time for future Facebook Lives so we can accommodate convenient times for more students, faculty and staff.
Lean on Me!
I wanted to leave you with a positive thought. Last night, in New York City they held a singalong to “Lean on Me,” the familiar song by Bill Withers. We all have probably thought of those lyrics frequently during this time. “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long, ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” Many of you have leaned on someone through this past month and many have provided support for someone who needed to lean on you. You inspire me and I am so very proud to be a part of this remarkable and extraordinary Forsyth Tech Family!
Thank you for being Forsyth Tech strong! Take care and have a great weekend!