AC names interim president in anticipation of Lowery-Hart departure

Amarillo College (AC) Regents responded proactively and with dispatch to the news on July 24th that AC President Russell Lowery-Hart has been named sole finalist for the chancellorship of the Austin Community College (ACC) District.

The next day (July 25), AC’s Board of Regents conducted a special meeting to begin laying the groundwork for a potential presidential transition at AC, a contingency plan that includes the appointment of an interim president, should the need arise.

While negotiations are ongoing between Lowery-Hart and ACC – he has not yet accepted the job; and state law mandates a 21-day waiting period before any such leadership change can be finalized – AC Regents are resolved to be prepared for the possible departure of a president under whose leadership AC captured the 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

“It is thanks to Russell’s truly transformative leadership that AC is the number one community college in the nation, so it is no wonder he was courted by others,” said Anette Carlisle, chair of AC’s Board of Regents. “If we do lose him, we will be sad to see him go, but it is incumbent upon our board to prepare for the very real possibility of a presidential vacancy.”

To prevent any potential gap in presidential leadership at the College, the Board appointed Denese Skinner, vice president of student affairs, to serve as interim president – if necessary. Skinner’s tenure as interim president would be triggered only in the event of the Board’s acceptance of Lowery-Hart’s potential resignation.

“Denese has a proven track record of achievement in higher-education leadership and will provide steady guidance if Russell does indeed separate from the College,” Carlisle said. “We appreciate her willingness to step into the role if or when she is needed. She is an outstanding fit to lead AC for an interim period.”

Skinner joined the AC administration in 2017 after 24 years of service in a variety of leadership positions at West Texas A&M University (WT), where on separate occasions she was both interim dean of enrollment management and interim vice president of student affairs. An alumna of AC, which she attended on a basketball scholarship, Skinner went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in education from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree in school counseling from WT.

“I am honored to be asked to serve in this capacity,” Skinner said, “and I have great confidence that if Russell does take the job in Austin that the outstanding leadership team we have in place will continue to make great things happen here at AC. We all have AC’s best interests at heart and know how to keep our train moving down the track.”

Should Lowery-Hart ultimately become chancellor at ACC, he would be the successor to Dr. Richard Rhodes, who is retiring after serving in that capacity for the past 12 years.

Leading AC to the 2023 Aspen Prize is his signature achievement, to be sure, but in nine years as the president of AC, Lowery-Hart has endorsed numerous initiatives that have garnered resounding statewide and national acclaim. The College’s venerable body of work under his watch is wide-ranging and includes, among many other achievements, improved completion rates – from 19 percent in 2014 to 60 percent in 2022; dramatic increases in labor-market outcomes; reaccreditation with zero recommendations – a rarity; widespread physical renovations; and even receipt of a $15 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

“While I cannot predict the future,” Lowery-Hart said,” I will say that it is my greatest honor to lead and love Amarillo College to success.”

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