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Clark State selects new president

Arkansas official picked because of her energy, vision.

Clark State Community College, one of the county’s top 20 employers, has selected the chancellor of the Ozark Campus at Arkansas Tech University to be its next president.

Jo Alice Blondin, picked from three finalists who interviewed at the college earlier this month, will begin her tenure as president July 1, said Jim Doyle, chair of the board of trustees and the search committee. She will replace long-time Clark State President Karen Rafinski, who announced in 2012 that she would retire at the end of this school year.

Clark State is the two-year college serving Clark, Champaign, Greene and Logan counties. The school has an enrollment of 5,777 students and 622 employees, ranking 16th last year among Clark County employers.

The school and the president play an important role in fulfilling workforce and employer needs in the community, said John Detrick, Clark County commissioner.

“Clark State plays a major role in providing specific skills for the employers in Clark County, and because of their enrollment … we are able to provide skilled labor to the businesses in the entire area served,” he said. “Also it provides our workforce an opportunity to advance their skills by having a two-year educational program available in the community.”

Blondin has been the chancellor of the Ozark Campus since 2006 and was the chief academic officer and chief student officer prior to that, according to her resume. She is also a professor of English at Arkansas Tech.

“The search team, as well as the (other interview) participants, were particularly energized with Dr. Blondin, the way she addressed the future for Clark State,” said Doyle. “They thought she had a wonderful vision, and they also thought she had the high level of energy that it would take to make things happen.”

Her salary at Clark State will be $175,000 a year. Rafinski’s salary was $186,400.

Blondin holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Purdue University and a graduate degree in English from Arizona State University. She also has a doctorate degree in English, from Arizona State.

“The job appealed to me because of what I consider the vibrant economic development going on in Springfield and the unique program mix at Clark State, as well as the very accomplished faculty and staff they have on their campuses,” she said.

As an administrator on the Ozark campus, Blondin increased enrollment by nearly 600 percent and improved retention, graduation and success rates from 17 to 58 percent.

Blondin will begin her time as president meeting with students, faculty and staff, community leaders and the board and listening to what they have to say about Clark State. The people involved in the school, regional campuses and Rafinski’s leadership have the school in a good place, but managing growth and improving completion rates will be challenges that need to be addressed, she said.

“This isn’t just Clark State, I want to make that very clear,” she said. “This is every community college across the country. There’s a particular challenge upon us and it’s the right thing to do… Clark State has the challenge and it needs to be addressed.”

The three finalists for the position were excellent candidates, but Blondin stood out, said Clark State Foundation board President Steve Sidlo, former Springfield News-Sun publisher who was a member of the search committee. He was asked to speak with Blondin’s references, all of whom spoke “effusively” about her.

“We were concerned, losing that kind of strong leadership (with Rafinski), but we’ve got it with Jo,” Sidlo said. “She’s going to really do a lot for the community and the college.”

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