After nearly 50 years with San Luis Obispo’s community college, Cuesta College President Gil Stork announced Friday that he will retire — again. His last day will be June 30, 2018.
“These last eight years have been the most rewarding personal and professional experience of my 54 years in education,” said Stork, who returned to the college as president after a short-lived retirement in 2010. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The hiring process for his replacement is expected to get underway in September.
Stork, 75, a San Luis Obispo native and graduate of San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly, has been credited with guiding Cuesta College through a turbulent period after its accreditation was threatened due to insufficiencies in three areas: planning and assessment, technology resources, and financial planning and stability.
He began his career as an assistant football coach and physical education instructor at the college, where he later worked as an associate dean, dean of instruction and vice president until his retirement in 2004.
Returning to the school as president in 2010, Stork focused on bracing the school for state budget cuts and addressing problems cited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which had placed the school on probation in 2010. Under his leadership, all sanctions were dropped and its accreditation was reaffirmed in 2014.
Stork has been a mainstay in the San Luis Obispo County community, serving on the board of directors for several local and state organizations including the Economic Vitality Corp. and the California Community College Athletic Association.
He’s lived in San Luis Obispo for 70 years, and has been married to his wife, Jan, for 53 of those. The couple has five adult children and 10 grandchildren.
‘Risen from the ashes’
Returning to Cuesta in 2010, Stork faced several daunting tasks. The school had been notified a year earlier by the accrediting commission that it wasn’t meeting roughly a dozen different standards. The school was told it needed to fix key insufficiencies.
If it failed to do so, the school’s accreditation would be revoked, which could have forced the college to close.
Things didn’t turn around overnight, but Cuesta steadfastly addressed all of the issues. Its accreditation was reaffirmed for a period of six years in 2015.
Its efforts were hampered by the national economic downturn, which forced community colleges across the state to deal with steep budget cuts. Today, the college says, it’s operating within its budget with a strategic focus on long-term financial stability.
“We’re now at a pivotal point in our history,” Stork said at a press conference Friday. “We have, I say, risen from the ashes, from where we were eight years ago when we were on accreditation sanctions with the state of California, (facing) the fiscal crisis, unemployment was high.”
He added: “We’ve dug our way out, and I am really proud to say today that we consider ourselves a model college.”
Since Stork returned, the college has also made drastic infrastructural improvements thanks to voter passage of 2014’s Measure L, a $275 million general obligation bond. Those funds have paid for a 32,000-square-foot, two-story instructional building at the San Luis Obispo campus, set to open in spring 2018, and a 43,000-square-foot, two-story North County campus center, also set to open in the spring.
In fulfilling the school’s mission to promote equity, diversity and inclusion, the college in 2014 launched the Cuesta College Promise Scholarship, which provides a tuition-free year at the college for all recent San Luis Obispo County high school graduates.
Under Stork’s leadership, Cuesta College has earned designations as a Hispanic-serving institution and a military-friendly school, as well as a No Place for Hate designation by the Anti-Defamation League.
The school also made the list as a top California community college on two educational resource websites.
Moving forward, Stork said the college needs to maintain high enrollment by listening to students’ demand for more flexible classes, including online courses, which the school is emphasizing with its instructors, Stork said.
“This college has the ability to move forward and take on change, without fear or anxiety about change,” he said. “That’s why I considered this a perfect time for me to try retiring again.”
‘Ready to go’
Dr. Barbara George, who called Friday’s announcement a “bittersweet moment,” said the board has been anticipating Stork’s retirement and is prepared to begin a nationwide search for a new president to start work on July 1, 2018.
The Cuesta College Board of Trustees will accept Stork’s letter of retirement at its meeting Sept. 6 and discuss how to proceed with a recruitment timeline, and plans for advertising and forming an interview committee. This will include public input, George said.
“We’ve been preparing, and we’re ready to go,” George said.
Correction: This story has been changed to clarify that Cuesta College never lost its accreditation.