Prestwich said a number of factors — some personal in nature — influenced his decision to resign.
“Ultimately, I decided it was the right time for me to announce my plan to leave,” he said.
One of those factors was the NWC Board of Trustees’ months-delayed vote to extend Prestwich’s existing contract. Eventually, the board narrowly agreed in August to negotiate a contract by a vote of 4-3.
“I was disappointed when the board elected not to honor the stipulations in my 2010-12 contract that required them to vote on a contract extension in February 2011, and then in February 2012,” Prestwich said in an email last week.
“I certainly would have liked to have more certainty about my long-term place at Northwest College,” he said during a telephone interview, “but again, I’m happy to be here, happy to have a contract for next year, and my attitude has been, as long as I’m here ... I’m going to do my best for Northwest College.”
NWC Trustee Gloria Hedderman said last week she was surprised by Prestwich’s resignation.
“He did a great job, and I think he will continue to do a good job as long as he’s here. He’s a worker and a problem solver. We’ll keep him just as long as we can.”
Hedderman said she was grateful that Prestwich had provided more than a year of notice before he plans to leave.
“He’s given us plenty of time, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “We’ll need the time. We still have to fill the vice president (of academic affairs) position that’s open.”
Board President Mark Westerhold said the board has not set a definite timeline for conducting a search to replace Prestwich yet.
“I would say April or May we will start setting timeline and getting a search committee together,” he said Monday. “It probably will be late spring or early summer.”
“President Prestwich’s resignation was a surprise,” said Bob Becker, president of the NWC Faculty Organization. “While faculty have not always agreed with President Prestwich, we certainly wish him the best in his future endeavors. Additionally, we believe this will provide an opportunity for NWC to engage in self-examination and determine where we want to go in the future.”
Becker said he expects the search for candidates to replace Prestwich will be conducted similar to past ones, “where we’ve had constituent group representation and board representation. Make that person available, bring them in for a couple of days.
“I think the college needs to think about where we need to go in the next 10 years, then I think we need to compare it to the vision of the person coming in (as a candidate) to lead the college.”
NWC Trustee Rick LaPlante said change often creates a loss, and “I think people at the college are sad. They have lost a relationship, and they have lost consistency.”
This is a time to look forward, and the lengthy notice given by Prestwich will allow the college community to do that well, he said.
“Now’s the time to think about, what should the next process look like,” LaPlante said. “We can evaluate the process before beginning the process.”
The overall goal, LaPlante said, is to “get an organization that, historically, has not been on the same page, to work together.”
The next NWC president should be “someone with really strong skills in organizational dynamics,” he said.
“You can interview for those skills, and I’m 100 percent confident that if that person has those skills, if he or she thrives in a conflict situation, we can move the ball forward ... If we do our job and find the person that is the right fit for the job, an exceptional leader, even if they lack some skills ... I think we’re going to be fine.
“If we find that person, a lot of other things will follow ...
“We can build on successes that Paul had, but learn from the mistakes that have been made — not the mistakes that Paul made, but mistakes that have happened at the institution.
“If we choose not to learn from those mistakes, then it will be very difficult for this institution to move forward.
“The truth is, organizationally, it’s a difficult place right now, and everybody has a part in that. Boy, if everybody doesn’t buy in, that they are part of that solution, it’s going to be a long row to hoe.”
LaPlante said the college community needs to work together to make the changes that are needed.
“I think everyone realizes the challenges at Northwest College. ... We’re going to expect everybody to think about, ‘What does it take to make this a world-class organization?’”
Dillon Deffinbaugh, president of the Northwest College Student Senate, said he thinks students are supportive of Prestwich’s decision.
“I think that they respect that he’s staying for another year and going to see out the job that he started,” Deffinbaugh said Thursday.
The next president should be someone who is “dedicated to the students,” he said. “I heard in the past that we had presidents who weren’t very personable when it came to students.”
In addition, the next president “should just be someone that matches what the college is looking for, as far as the direction we’re heading now and our specific needs at the time.”
Deffinbaugh said he is supportive of Prestwich and his decision to resign, as well as his determination to continue working to move the college forward.
“This morning, he just made it clear ... he said, ‘Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean that the institution has changed its goals. We’re still working toward those goals in the next year.’”
Prestwich said last week he planned to continue working toward:
• Identifying ways to raise the $5 million local match required before the college can use state money to build a $13 million classroom building.
• Completing work on a strategic plan for Northwest College.
• Complete remaining work by the Trust, Respect and Understanding Support Team — the TRUST team — such as clarification of processes for shared governance, a participatory budgeting and a strategic plan with broad participation.
• Preparing for a focus visit by a team from the Higher Learning Commission in spring 2013.
Once that and other work is completed, Prestwich said his advice to the board and the campus is “to hire someone that can implement a plan and use that to develop subsequent plans. Someone who can identify with the college and community colleges in general, who has an understanding and appreciation of the community college, particularly a rural residential college.”