Florida Keys Community College's newly arrived president said Tuesday that he will spend the next several months on a "listening tour" of his new hometown, absorbing the county's educational and economic needs.
"We will organize these out in the community," Jonathan Gueverra told several dozen people who attended a meet-and-greet event hosted by First State Bank of the Florida Keys in Key West.
"I won't even speak as long as I am tonight. I need to hear from you," he said, having started his second week on the job. "I'm really there to listen. We need to be your and this community's college. We are the only college that is here."
Gueverra, 53, took the FKCC helm July 2, having left his CEO post at the community college in Washington, D.C., which he helped create.
FKCC's board of trustees unanimously chose Gueverra, who blew away the panel during interviews here in April.
"I love Dr. Gueverra," said board trustee Antoinette Martin, at Tuesday's bank party. "He is so innovative. He's a very good communicator."
Martin said that the mood at the college is "very positive," with Gueverra's arrival.
Gueverra spoke sparingly on Tuesday, refusing to hold the microphone and clamping it back on the stand as if he felt ridiculous holding it in the first place. But his remarks were of hope and determination to expand FKCC's education throughout the Keys.
"So we don't keep exporting people out of the community," he said. "We are connected by all of these bridges in so many different ways and we need to make these connections stronger."
Gueverra is the sixth president in the college's 46-year history, which turned turbulent in 2009 when then-President Jill Landesberg-Boyle resigned after her brief tenure had divided the campus.
Veteran community college administrator Larry Tyree then came aboard, helping to right a sinking college where morale was as abysmal as the finances.
The retiring Tyree left the Keys for his home in Sarasota the day after the board's June 27 meeting, where he was named President Emeritus by the trustees, said college spokeswoman Amber Ernst-Leonard on Tuesday.
Gueverra was widely respected by city leaders in D.C., but had grown impatient with the city's refusal to fund the community college at a level that could start new programs, like dental hygiene and surgical technology, according to reports by Washington City Paper.
"Walking in, I was told that the funding was there to do this. Hearing something and seeing it is two different things," Gueverra said, according to City Paper.
The D.C. leaders offered him a $51,000 raise if he would stay. Gueverra chose the Keys instead.
Gueverra, who earned $178,000 in D.C., took the FKCC president job for $180,000 a year in total compensation, which includes salary and benefits.
There are more important things than money, Gueverra has said about his job change.
On Tuesday, he vowed to run a tight ship at FKCC, treating employees with the respect they deserve.
Gueverra said that over the next several weeks he will survey and review the college. He has said there will be no "cleaning house," but has promised changes and shifts.
"No, you won't hear about it in the press first," he told Tuesday night's crowd. "You will hear it from us internally. Then we will tell the community."