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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

Coordinator's transfer sparks ire in Wai'anae

Advertiser Staff

Folks along the Wai'anae Coast are angry and confused about the abrupt transfer of a woman they say has transformed Leeward Community College's satellite campus and become in a short time "the best thing that we've had in years out here."

No reason was given for Lucy Gay's transfer.

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One student said the woman's contributions have meant the difference between getting a higher education and doing without for the people in Wai'anae who need it most — those without the means to go elsewhere.

Lucy Gay, 58, took over as coordinator of LCC's Wai'anae facility near Wai'anae Mall last July 1, and was told May 30 that her one-year contract would not be renewed. A short, two-paragraph memorandum gave no reason for what Gay calls a demotion. She said she will take a substantial cut in pay and return to the LCC campus in Pearl City as a counselor — a position she held when she began at the college 32 years ago.

Wai'anae Coast residents were dumbfounded to learn of Gay's impending departure and are taking their case all the way to the governor in a bid to get her reinstated.

"All I know is that she's done a minor miracle out here, in terms of getting people to take classes," said community leader William Aila. "We can't figure out why they made the change, except that she's making the community smarter, and maybe somebody doesn't want that."

LCCW students made their case for Gay before the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board at a recent meeting, and the response has been swift.

A student petition on Gay's behalf is circulating, residents have met with area legislators and the neighborhood board plans to draft a letter to LCC administrators, the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents, UH President Evan Dobelle and Gov. Linda Lingle asking that Gay be allowed to remain in her position.

In 11 months as division chair at LCCW, Gay and others say she doubled enrollment, quadrupled the number of available programs and found $250,000 in scholarships for area residents wanting to return to school. She figured out a way to make summer programs tuition free, and has instituted a plan to help educational assistants become certified under a recent federal mandate — an issue of major importance to schools on the Wai'anae Coast.

When Gay arrived, the satellite's computer lab was woefully outdated, she said. Doors in the women's restrooms wouldn't close, some of the toilets wouldn't flush and the air vent didn't work. Gay says she got those sorts of things corrected by insisting that they be fixed and following through on her demands.

Lucy Gay, former coordinator for Leeward Community College at Wai'anae, was dismissed, leaving area residents angry.

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"I think there is a feeling among the students and faculty that she's done an extraordinary job, and that it would be a loss to the community if she left," said Dean Garrett, a former LCC administrator and current part-time English and math instructor. "She has accomplished a whole lot in a short amount of time."

But as angry as residents are about the decision concerning Gay, they are even more furious at LCC administrators for refusing to say why they decided to transfer Gay.

Calls to LCC Provost Mark Silliman were not returned. LCC Dean of Instruction Douglas Dykstra, who gave Gay her termination letter, said he is aware of the community's displeasure and that he had received "a lot of telephone calls." Otherwise, he had nothing to say about the controversy.

"I'm not really authorized to talk about any internal personnel matter," he said. "I can't make any statement."

Aila said LCC owes the community a better explanation. Maralyn Kurshals, who chairs the education committee on the neighborhood board, agrees.

"I'm really upset," said Kurshals. "Lucy's been a treasure. She's turned that place around as far as enrollment and bringing in new classes and curriculum.

"What we heard at the board meeting was this powerful testimony from students who said, 'We don't want to let her go — she's the best thing that we've had in years out here.' "

"They gave us somebody so good, and now they are going to take her away," said Patty Teruya, a neighborhood board member and assistant to City Councilman Mike Gabbard. "There were a lot of people at the neighborhood board meeting crying and expressing concerns."

Roxanne Benevides, 41, was among the students who spoke at the neighborhood board meeting.

"I really don't know her on a personal level," Benevides later said of Gay. "But I do know it's a good thing that she's out here. The school's been there for 11 years, and we never had the courses before. I don't know how she did it, but she's been able to motivate teachers to come to Wai'anae to teach high-level classes."

Benevides said Gay's contributions represent the only hope for some in Wai'anae — in particular single mothers such as herself — who don't have the means to travel to facilities outside the community.

Gay says she wonders if she's being punished for getting things done. But she's prepared for whatever happens.

"I have a life, believe it or not," Gay said. "But I love what I do. Any job they give me. I'll go back, if I have to, and I'll be a bang-up counselor. If they make me a custodian, I'll be the best ... custodian."