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Q&A with Palomar Governing Board Candidate Norma Miyamoto

Editors Note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. It is not verbatim.

SAN MARCOS — Palomar Governing Board candidate Norma Miyamoto running for re-election said she wants student class schedules to meet students’ needs including times, place, and modality. During an on-campus interview with The Telescope staff, Miyamoto said if re-elected she will see through the permanent building at the Fallbrook site. She also said she would vote affirmatively for a study to determine needs and solutions to student and faculty housing.

Miyamoto, who is running against one other candidate for Palomar College’s District 5 (Oceanside, Bonsall, Fallbrook, and Camp Pendleton), was asked to answer a series of student-focused questions generated by reporters from the campus newspaper.

The Telescope: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what was the last book you read?

Norma Miyamoto: I have been serving for the last four years, as the trustee. About two years ago, the redistricting occurred, so I represent area five. I just concluded my first term and am running for re-election. I am not new to Palomar. I enjoy the Palomar family, as I like to call it. In 1996, I was the manager of the Marketing Communications Office. That position was renamed as director. Later I completed and was selected for the director of extended Ed, which meant I oversaw all of the education sites. Then in 2000, I became a division dean in a competitive process, and ironically, the communications, journalism, or TV fell in my division so you are my peeps. I hold these programs fondly to my heart.

I did retire in 2015. I returned for two years and continued to serve in my family capacity, and then in 2018, I was elected to the board. I have been here since 1996. Previously, my background is similar to yours. I finished a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in journalism. That’s media communications. I worked in the field of public relations for a number of years, and I taught part-time journalism at Mira Costa College, where I was the adviser to the student newspaper for eight years. That’s just a very quick synopsis of my background and my educational experience. I think probably what you’re going to hear consistently is truly my love for Palomar and for the community college system. We’re blessed to have such a system in the State of California, I frequently say it’s the only really good buy in this state. It is affordable and accessible to all. So I’m proud to be a part of it. For twenty-eight years, I’ve been associated with Palomar in some capacity.

[The last book I read] was Reckless Love by Tom Berlin. I read that a little bit ago, as part of a book group at my church. As the title suggests it’s a book about love and connecting with our fellow beings. The chapters really tell you the storyline: Begin With Love (love ourselves), Expand the Circle (to others). Lavish Love, Open-hearted Love, Value the Vulnerable, and then finally Emulate Christ. I tend to read non-fiction in that I just don’t have a lot of time for fiction in my life. Many of my readings are really surrounded around governing board materials. When I receive the pack at the board packet, it’s thick but I do attempt to read those materials. So, anyway, that is my most recently read book. Thank you for that prompt.

Governing Board Candidate Norma Miyamoto sits in a chair and gestures with her hands during an interview in September 2022.
Governing Board Candidate Norma Miyamoto talks to The Telescope staff during an interview in September 2022. She is running for re-election for a 4-year term on the five-member board. Photo: Ryan Marlowe/The Telescope

The Telescope: Who are your influences?

Norma Miyamoto: My first influencers were first my parents. I was very blessed to be born to a mother and a father who just taught me wonderful values. My mother, I always say, was my greatest cheerleader in life. She truly taught and repeated constantly, “You can go, be, and do anything you think you can.” She had me believing that I could be President of the United States. She truly was my champion. I realize that not all people are born into such circumstances.

Secondly, but not in an inferior way, was my father who taught me different principles: frugality and work ethic. He was six foot five inches; a very tall gentle giant. His sense of humor was beyond none. I learned a lot from him. His strongest swear word was ‘shoot on it’. You knew if that was said it was not good.

Currently, my husband, children, and grandchildren are my influencers. My husband has taken on my mother’s role. He thinks the same I can go and do anything that I want. My children of course are very supportive and my grandchildren.

Professionally, Wilma Owens, who’s also a retired dean from Palomar, was an early mentor from the day I walked onto campus. She kind of held my hand through my Palomar journey. At one point, she was my boss. When an interim Dean position for this very division was available, I said, “I don’t think I was ready. I’m scared.” And she said, “Norma. You’re ready. Apply for it, and what you don’t know, I’ll help you with.” She’s probably been my best professional mentor, and to this day remains a constant friend in my life.

The Telescope: Why are you running for Palomar Governing Board?

Norma Miyamoto: The primary reason is, there are still initiatives, and projects that I want to see through to completion. I almost think that sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean it that way, because most likely they’re going to complete themselves with or without me. There’s something about seeing it done that I want to be a part of. One of those is the building of the permanent building at the Fallbrook Center. At one point, that building really was in slight jeopardy, and if I had not been on the board, I’m not sure the outcome would have been the same. I want to see that the dirt turned over. I’m going to be standing there when the ribbons are cut. I also want to be part of continuing to support our current Superintendent and President, I fondly refer to her as Dr. Star. I think many do. She’s been here for one year. She’s blossoming. There’s still a foundation and I feel like I’m part of that foundation for her. I hope to continue in that role.

I want to see what Palomar’s going to be like in the post-Covid days, I know what it has been like since 1996, and as I walk on campus today it’s a different Palomar. We have a different group of students. We, the board, need to help ensure that we are offering a product. That is a class schedule for when students need it, where they need it, and in the modality that it’s needed. I want to be a part of the rebuilding and sculpturing of what the future of Palomar will look like. There are many plans attached to that in the education and the facilities master plan. Those are all forthcoming or just starting in the works. So I want to see those to fruition. We’ve obtained fiscal stability. I would like to continue to help guide that ship along stabling waters. At the top of the list is to get staffing levels back to where they need to be. We are probably sixty to eighty classified staff members short. We just desperately need to rebuild the classified faculty. The classified unions repeatedly state, “working conditions equal learning, conditions..” It’s so true and one reason I want to be part of the future of Palomar.

The Telescope: What experiences and skills do you have that will make you a good governing board leader?

Norma Miyamoto: My background, my degrees are in journalism communications. You learn as a student, and then you learn in the profession the skills that are very much needed for this work that I’m about. You learn to listen, you learn to ask questions, you learn to ask follow-up questions, and you learn to look at and analyze data. You learn that not everything you’re hearing is the whole truth, it might be a partial truth. As a journalist, you learn to say, “Okay, that’s part of the story. What’s the piece you’re leaving out.” As a trustee, I’ve been able to tease that out and ask those questions. And because of the training that I did get early in my career, I’m not afraid to ask those questions. I try to do so kindly because there’s no reason not to be kind about how I ask the questions, but I am not afraid to ask them. I think my educational experience of formal education, my work experience, and maybe most importantly, or at least equally important, is just my knowledge of Palomar College. Having worked on the operations side and now, as a governing board member, I’m part of a policy-making board. There are very different beasts, but it’s helpful to understand the operations so that I am better able to ask those questions. I know how the sausage is made.

The Telescope: Did you attend a community college as part of your education? If so, where and what did you study?

Norma Miyamoto: I did not. I graduated in 1975 in a little town called Zionsville, Indiana, outside of Indianapolis. I had never heard of the term Community college. Maybe we had one in Indianapolis, I hadn’t heard of it, but I guarantee that I had never heard of a community college and I don’t think any of my graduating peers did. It just wasn’t part of my life when I was making decisions about education. So, consequently when my peers were graduating. They had two choices to be competitive: get into a four-year university or go to work. We did not have the benefit of a community college. Now, since that time, I taught at a community college. I was twenty-five years of age. It was a military community. It was the right time, right place. They needed a journalism instructor, and I had just finished my master’s. So, I said, “Yes, please.” That was truly my first introduction to community college. After that, I moved to California. Community colleges are a big part of our educational system here.

I’m proud to say that both of my children took advantage of Palomar college. My daughter graduated from high school in three years by taking four college classes by doing what we now called dual enrollment. My son did what I’m, hoping some of you folks are doing. He attended four semesters. In and out. Got his associate degree. Transferred to UCLA. Graduated with honors, which is exactly one of the pathways that a community college is established to help. It’s one. It’s not the single mission.

No, I did not attend, because, frankly, I didn’t have the opportunity, but I have since learned a lot, and feel fortunate to live in a state that offers this.

The Telescope: Please tell us one thing you like about Palomar and one thing you would change?

Norma Miyamoto: There are so many things. I like that it’s open and accessible to all. Our previous President, Bob Deegan used to say, “We accept the top one hundred percent of every graduating high school class.” It’s a good quote. I do very much appreciate that. I appreciate that you talk to anyone on the street, and everywhere has been touched by Palomar in some way. [They say ]“Oh, my son went to Palomar”, “my cousin”, “my husband’s currently attending.” It just serves so many multiple missions, and it touches lives in a very positive way. It serves our veteran community, of which I’m very proud.

One thing that I would change is probably, the current staffing levels. To help guarantee students’ success, we need people. So many of our students are first-generation college students. They’re re-entry students. They are older students. One thing we all have in common is we usually need help. We need a friendly face and an informed person. We need that person sitting at that front desk when you enter the doors of student services. We are down. We are lacking some of those people, we’re lacking people out in the instructional departments, academic department assistants, we call them. We need people, and that too is a first priority.

The Telescope: What are your short-term goals and long-term goals both at Palomar and personally?

Norma Miyamoto: Staffing apparently seems to be a thing that I’m very much passionate about. That’s a short-term goal. Professionally, my long-term goal is adapting to meet student needs and again. I think I’ve touched on this but as we build the post-Covid Palomar College, what is it going to look like? And for that matter, I think it’s true for every academic institution. It’s true for business and industry. It’s probably true for our families. We hosted an event yesterday and were thinking. we should have done it in a hybrid format. We would have got thirty more people to attend because people are just used to it. It’s, “ What are we going to look like in the future?”

Personally, they’re really the same, to maintain health, to nurture and maintain friendships and family relations. Be kind and gentle in my dealings. to give back through service. To allow people, and I put in parentheses, (services) you know, some people whose services I use and pay for; I allow them what I call a three-strike rule. And that is that everyone makes mistakes. But when there’s that third strike I go and find a new nail salon. You know three strikes, and you’re out. So, anyway, I want to maintain that. And if termination is necessary, I do it with kindness. To find a new church family. We’re currently kind of bouncing about, and I need a permanent church family. Those are some short-term and long-term goals that are blended.

The Telescope: What resources are students lacking that you would make available or improve?

Norma Miyamoto: How would you make them available? That’s the difficult part because making them available is almost always tied to money, So it’s a line item in the budget, the general fund. It’s a foundation grant. It’s partnerships with businesses and industry. It’s a benefactor. But it’s always money. But the other thing is, staff, staff, staff! So what resources are students lacking? Staff here at Palomar College to help them succeed. That was what I listed as number one. Housing and food insecurities. I’m very proud of our food pantry. I think Palomar is doing a phenomenal job, but maybe getting the word out more. Online, free textbooks. Again, the college has made great strides in this area, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue, and we should continue. Textbooks are one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars a text. In some classes, you might have the requirement for two, three, or four required texts. So you can have a five hundred dollar bill easily for one course. That’s just outrageous. So that definitely is a resource that needs to be continually addressed.

It’s a great question to ask the ASG. ASG and [Telescope] reporters are in touch with the student body. So we need to hear from our students. The Government Board needs to hear what resources are needed that aren’t currently being delivered. I’m hoping I’m touching on some that are already being delivered to some degree. The last two, though, are unique to me.

When I first started at Palomar in 1996, I didn’t understand some of the political climates. I was in a meeting of a parking and security committee, I know it has a different name, but I said then, and I’ll say it again on camera. I never understood why staff and faculty park for free but students pay. Who is the customer here? Not faculty and staff. Students are here quote/unquote buying the product, and that is education. You’re paying for the services of learning, right? And so and yet we ask the customer to pay the parking bill, and we don’t ask that of our own staff and faculty. So that’s an area that you know what? Thirty, twenty-eight years we decided, you know, because why? It’s not going to be popular with staff and faculty. It probably will never happen, but I do believe it. That one incentive, one area we could just do a little bit would be. Reduce the parking fees for students. Those parking fees are used to pay for the maintenance of our parking lots. Okay. So maybe the general fund needs to pick up a part of that bill or not. I’m hoping we do. But that’s an area that I have kind of tooted my horn on for several years.

I think what most of us lack is money and time, and I’m not sure I have the answer for that one. But money and time are lacking. But one idea that district might consider through the foundation are some short-term loan programs. I know that we were doing that when Covid first started. Sometimes, students are waiting for that VA benefit to come in, and they just can’t make it. They can’t make rent. They can’t buy that next tank of gas, and the short-term loan would mean all the difference. So, those are just some ideas. Certainly, we need to ask students and hear from students, and then collectively work to meet those needs.

The Telescope: I kind of want to go back and touch on your issues with the staffing. How would you want to improve that? How do you want to recruit and do some kind of outreach in order to up the staffing numbers?

Norma Miyamoto: In a recent conversation with our Superintendent and President, I believe there are fifty positions that have been identified as critical now. Well, we only have, I believe three recruiters. We will have faculty hires coming soon and hiring of faculty always takes precedence over hiring of classified staff. So let’s just say we’re going to hire thirty faculty and fifty staff. Now we have eighty, and we have three recruiters. It’s an impossibility.

In my conversation with Dr. Starr, I said, I’m not a great fan of hiring consultants, but this is one time. Get some short-term hourly people here, some skilled people in recruiting. We have to get these hires done quickly because to hire eighty people could take another three years, and we don’t have that. We need to have that in the next three to six months. We also need to be very keen about making sure that when we hire, we’re hiring in a diverse workforce. So that means advertising and recruiting and in the appropriate places to attract diversity to our workforce. We literally need recruiters going out and doing outreaches at some of the graduate programs and just connecting the professional groups to ensure that we increase our diversity. We’re making progress but we need to continue to do so. We need to do everything through that DIA anti-racism lens. When I say everything I mean recruiting, and we need to do it yesterday.

The Telescope: Have you spoken to the faculty about the merits and concerns of AB1705? What perspective did you gain?

Norma Miyamoto: Yes, I have, although I have to say that those conversations at this point were probably a year to eighteen months ago. So a little bit stale, and I was trying to recollect, but I do recall conversations being very mixed, some faculty in favor, some not in favor. Some remedial or developmental education for reading, math, and English now is no longer permitted by the State because of AB 1705.

So that meant that those courses virtually went away at Palomar. With that very pragmatically, there are offerings for part-time faculty to help. So certainly on that side, there’s a disadvantage. Whether it’s an advantage or disadvantage for students, I recall very mixed conversations. Some thinking, yes, we’re a college and students need to come to us with those skills in math and English. They need to be adequately prepared in K-12 to succeed at the freshmen level and not get bogged down. What we found, and this is supported by data is that, and I don’t recall the percentage, students who needed those developmental courses just never made it through to get to the college level. So we lost them before they were truly college students, if that makes sense, taking freshmen-level courses.

So mixed responses from faculty. I get the sense now that change is difficult. I get the sense that faculty are okay with this. Although I know that back at the State level some are kind of crying out otherwise. They’re opposed to the legislation. But I’m not hearing a whole lot of objection locally.

The Telescope: How often do you visit campus and interact directly with staff and students?

Norma Miyamoto: During Covid, not much at all. So you know, like all of you, I’m kind of re-emerging, but my response is minimally at least twice a month. More commonly, I would say four to eight times a month. When we are in normal operations, I try my best to attend many of the events, performing arts events in particular. I love the glass and pottery art sales, cabinet and furniture making, the political history days. Just all of the various student events, and by so doing. Of course, I talk with students, staff, and faculty. I’m still available. It’s almost daily that I receive a phone call or email from someone at Palomar College. I would like to interact more with students, and I’ve made that request to ASG a couple of times. There are leadership changes, so I’ve said it recently, but I need to say it again to them because I’d love to be invited to one of their meetings now with the semesters kicking off. Yes, I’m here and available.

When you walk on campus, there’s an energy that I feel, and I learn. I call it the Water fountain discussion. Walk across campus, run into someone. I just learn a lot by the informal visits. After this, I’m actually having lunch with a classified staff member. I learn things there. Typically, trustees are considered off-limits to staff administrators and even faculty to some degree. And I remember being an administrator and being told you shall not talk directly with the governing board member. It’s very true. You are staff. Particularly staff and administrators, you talk to your supervisor, you go up through the appropriate channel. You never do an in-run to a trustee. It’s considered an in-run.

Well, the unique thing that I bring is I am one of them. I’m still looked upon as Norma. I’ve been known as Dean Norma to some people, but people are not hesitant to call, to contact me, and to share things. They usually ask for confidentiality. Of course, I always get that. But the point is, I know stuff. I learn things, and that is unique. I’m really blessed to be in a trustee position, and to be trusted by, I think the staff and faculty, and administrators here in Palomar.

The Telescope: Do you think Palomar should provide affordable on-campus student housing? If so, how would you help with that?

Yes, but they have to start with exploring the feasibility of providing affordable on-campus housing, and you hire a consulting firm. You conduct studies. You determine with certainty, that there is a need. What will it look like? How much will it cost? How many students would take advantage of it? And in kind of a segue, there is perhaps even staff faculty housing, because I think it’s been demonstrated, perhaps there’s a need there as well.

But you have to start with that feasibility study. So I would be absolutely supportive of doing that. In fact, we have a grant underway that’s in the works. Then when you collect all the data, that’s when you make the decision as to whether it is right, and what will it will look like. Will it be a private, public partnership, public only, or private only. You have to also look at the bottom line that is unfortunately cost, because I’ve been on a campus where we have student housing, and the district has expanded liability with student housing. You can imagine sort of what I’m talking about. So, with that, you have additional staffing costs, police costs, et cetera. So do I believe there’s a need, yes, but I would begin as a trustee to vote in the affirmative, to conduct a feasibility study.

The Telescope: How do you plan on boosting enrollment?

Norma Miyamoto: I personally empower the Superintendent/President. As a trustee, I don’t do anything to boost enrollment other than to talk to the Superintendent President, and really remember, I work as one of five. I do virtually very little as a trustee and some of the things I’ve described in my interactions, but as a unit, we give to the Superintendent/President that goal of boosting enrollment. She then is responsible for then directing her staff to do such. Our job as a board is to hold her accountable. So that’s how I would boost enrollment. You know it’s really very simple. I say it shall be done, and then you hold the person responsible accountable for that. So I will allude to this, though, and that is, what I said earlier. We must develop a schedule. And now I’m talking about class schedules. Right time, right place, and in the right way. That’s building a product to fit the consumer. That’s essential to success at Palomar College.

The Telescope: Where do you see Palomar in 4 years? How do you plan to get us there?

[The following is from a written transcript provided by Miyamoto prior to the interview: as time did not allow for a response during the interview.]

I hope the board will remain stable and that Dr. Star is still our Superintendent/President in 4 years. I believe she is a great leader who will build community partnerships and boost student enrollment and student services. Palomar will “look different” from what it is today. We need to figure out what students need and then deliver it. Classes need to be offered at the right time, at the right place, and in the right modality. We need to use this post-Covid period to assess students’ needs and then adjust offerings and services. Secondly, we need to keep DEIA and the anti-racism framework in the forefront as the above work is taking place. As a trustee, I will help lead the discussions and ensure that these matters are part of the board’s goals.

The Telescope: Anything else we should know about you?

[The following is from a written transcript provided by Miyamoto prior to the interview: as time did not allow for a response during the interview.]

Norma Miyamoto: If there is one “takeaway,” it’s my passion for the community college system, a system that affords students an opportunity for short-term training (certificates), for longer-term training in a career or technical field that pays more than a livable wage (A.A), for the first two years of a four-year degree (A.A or 60 G.E transferable units), and a community college student gains the confidence to be successful in their future endeavors. Wahoo to our community college system! Go Comets!

Editor’s Note: In a previous draft of this story, minor errors were left in the transcribed interview. These mistakes have been rectified. The Telescope regrets the error.

Image Sources

  • Norma Miyamoto 2022: Ryan Marlowe/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
  • Norma Miyamoto 2022: Ryan Marlowe/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved

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