Santa Monica College president Piedad Robertson is retiring from her position at the college, she announced Wednesday, November 17th.

Her retirement becomes effective January 31st. She has been president of the college since 1995.

She is leaving to accept a position as president of the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a national education policy organization based in Denver.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” Robertson said. “I am immensely proud of this outstanding institution’s many achievements and of the role I played in moving it forward.

“At the same time, I am excited about the opportunities at ECS to have an impact on educational policy — from kindergarten through university — at a national level.”

The ECS — whose current chairman is Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization created in 1965 to improve public education by facilitating the exchange of information, ideas and experiences among state policy makers and education leaders.

Huckabee said the ECS search committee was impressed that Robertson has worked with both political parties and is “more interested in getting the job done than in ideology.”

ECS has a staff of 51 and an annual budget between $11 million to $13 million. The organization’s goal is to help states improve their schools and colleges.

Robertson said she will advise the Santa Monica College board of trustees to appoint Tom Donner, executive vice president of business and administration, to serve as acting president until a replacement is selected.

She said that she and her husband Bill Robertson would keep their Santa Monica home and continue to be residents of the city.

“Santa Monica College is losing a great leader, whose courage and vision have pushed this college to new heights,” said college board of trustees chair Margaret Qui”ones.

“We wish Dr. Robertson well and we know that she will help shape national education policy as brilliantly as she shaped our college,” Qui”ones said.

Under Robertson’s leadership, voters in Santa Monica and Malibu approved two Santa Monica Community College District bond measures totaling $295 million.

The college district has also purchased a ten-acre property at the Santa Monica Airport and established an Academy of Entertainment and Technology.

Other major developments during her tenure include library expansion, a new science complex and the upcoming Madison Theater.

More than 160 new full-time tenure-track faculty members have been hired, making up about 45 percent of the current full-time professor ranks.

College officials said Robertson for nearly a decade as president had overseen dramatic changes at the college and established herself as a leader in “innovative educational programs, facilities planning, workforce and economic development, fundraising, and community and government relations.”

Last year, Robertson was appointed to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Transition Committee and was named special advisor to Richard Riordan, California’s secretary of education.

“I consider Dr. Robertson to be both my friend and mentor,” Riordan said. “I am certain the students and community of Santa Monica City College will miss her greatly.

“However, she will now be able to serve our nation with her passion for education and compassion for all students,” Riordan said.

She is one of seven members of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program Advisory Council, which oversees a $1 billion scholarship endowment created in 1999 by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Before coming to Santa Monica College, she was secretary of education for Massachusetts and president of Bunker Hill Community College.

A native of Cuba, she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Miami and a doctorate in education from Florida Atlantic University.

She has also held several administrative and faculty positions at Miami Dade Community College, Broward Community College and the University of Miami.