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VC Leadership Academy Graduates 19th Cohort

Ventura County Leadership Academy Graduates

By Tim Pompey

In a recent ceremony at Ventura City Hall, the Ventura County Leadership Academy celebrated the graduation of its nineteenth “cohort” class.

Begun in 1994, the VCLA cohort program is a series of symposiums that train future leaders to enhance the quality of life in Ventura County. Academy students meet once a month for full-day sessions with subject-matter experts and top-level administrators.

This year’s program included focus sessions on public safety, education, economic development/labor, housing, environment/transportation, health care, agriculture/water, governance, culture and arts, local government, and civic engagement.

As part of their class experience, cohort team members visited every city in the county and discussed a wide range of issues with key leaders within those cities.
In addition, this year’s cohort teamed up with the Ventura County Juvenile Justice Center to start a debate program. The goal was to develop a juvenile’s skills in critical thinking, research, public speaking, academic contextual reading, high-level organization, and effective writing.

Ventura Mayor Cheryl Heitmann thinks VCLA is a critical component for exposing students to diverse issues in leadership training throughout the county. “The whole idea,” said Heitmann, “is to actually train future leaders in not just government, but leadership issues in all areas and all regions of the county.”

Dave Smith, president & CEO of the United Way of Ventura County, believes that this type of program highlights the importance of diverse leadership styles. “It’s important to note that no two styles are the same,” said Smith. “Leadership is different according to the person who is leading. Each has their own style, their own way of leading.”

For Jill Shaffer, the academy’s executive director, the end-goal of the academy is to make a real impact in the communities where each participant lives. “We’re really trying to develop leaders to make a difference in Ventura County,” said Shaffer. “This is leadership that involves community service and which elevates the quality of life in the county by giving back, whether through boards or a higher level of community service.”

James Mason, assistant city manager and chief operating officer for the City of Ventura, and one of the recent cohort graduates, views the training as a key tool for making real change in the community. “Leadership is like self-improvement,” he stated. “It’s how you get better at what you do. But they key is not knowing what to say, it’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing it.”

The reasons for participating in the academy are as diverse as the students who attend. Paula Johnson, Director of Clinical Services for ARC, saw the academy as a valuable way to network throughout the county. “I did it to benefit my business contacts in Ventura County,” she stated. “In addition, we have offices throughout the county, and it’s such a beautiful county full of resources that I wanted to gather all of that so that it would benefit the people I work with.”

Dr. Michele R. Dean, Ed.D., and coordinator for the Ventura County Indian Education Consortium in the Ventura Unified School District, was asked by her superintendent to participate. She found that the experience significantly broadened her viewpoint. “I’m an educator,” Dean explained, “so I’m getting outside of my zone and learning about different structures and systems outside my district and outside of education.”
The VCLA operates as a nonprofit organization and is under the direction of a steering committee. It is sponsored in part by the United Way of Ventura County as a special program and is a member of the California Association of Leadership programs. You can find more information about the VCLA on their website or contact the academy’s office at (805) 485-6288.

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