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Final 2 candidates for Kaua‘i Community College chancellor meet faculty, staff and Garden Isle residents

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The Kaua‘i community has now met the four finalists vying for the position of chancellor at Kaua‘i Community College.

The University of Hawai‘i settled on the finalists after a months-long search. On Thursday and Friday, the candidates introduced themselves to the Garden Isle in public forums.

With the final interviews complete, the chancellor search committee will submit its recommendation for appointment to the UH president in March. The expected start date of the new chancellor will be in July.

Thursday saw candidates Mark Lausch and Margaret Sanchez – who has served as interim chancellor of Kaua‘i Community College since January 2023 – field questions from faculty, staff, students and community members at back-to-back meetings held in the Kaua‘i campus Fine Arts Auditorium.

On Friday, the public saw Angela McLean and Jeffery A. Thomas. Both candidates have spent years working in rural institutions and with a handful of Native American tribes. They both admitted they didn’t have much experience on Kaua‘i.

“I am deeply familiar with rural education, I am deeply familiar with the challenges that come with it,” said McLean, who currently serves in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education as the Director of American Indian and Minority Achievement and K-12 Partnerships for the Montana University System. “But I’m also deeply familiar with the opportunities that come from rural education and even more familiar with the opportunities that come as a result of a community college.”

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McLean not only introduced herself but gave a slideshow presentation on how she would approach the job at Kaua‘i Community College if appointed as chancellor.

In the presentation, McLean, who has been an educator for 30 years, identified four imperatives:

  • Fulfill kuleana to native Hawaiians and Hawai‘i
  • Develop successful students for a better future
  • Meet Hawai‘i’s workforce needs of today and tomorrow
  • Diversify Hawai‘i’s economy through UH innovation and research

“Delivering on these imperatives and making sure that the conversation around native Hawaiian success is something that belongs to all of us,” McLean said.

McLean also proudly spoke about her success in dual enrollment, workforce development and growing indigenous population enrollment.

McLean’s prepared comments were not unnoticed as one community member said: “You’re one of the more informed candidates.” They followed it up with a question asking what the hardest part of the job would be for her and why.

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The Montana native didn’t think there was a hard part of the position. However, she said, it will be important for her to make an intentional effort to build partnerships and stay connected with the partners the college already has.

McLean said that making an intentional effort to do this will allow her to achieve the four imperatives.

During her forum, McLean said she has a proven track record of growing indigenous student enrollment, retention and completion.

“I will never assume that I fully understand or think that the culture there is like it is here. But I think I could bring a lot of what I’ve learned there and work with the wonderful team leaders who are exercising their responsibility of those foreign imperatives to further support this institution and becoming a premiere native serving institution of the Hawaiian Islands.”

McLean earned her Doctorate in Education from Montana State University in the Fall 2021. She was also appointed to serve as Montana’s 31st Lieutenant Governor and was the second woman in Montana’s history to hold that office.

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Thomas’ presentation to the community was much more laid back as he didn’t spend much time talking about himself or his plans for the college but mostly answered questions.

Thomas is a professional educator with more than 25 years of experience in community and technical colleges, both as faculty and administration. If selected as chancellor, he said, it’s important not to come into a place with preconceived notions or a rigid plan.

“It’s important to be engaged, involved, transparent and available,” Thomas said. “To be as available as possible is important to a leadership role which is something I’d bring to this position.”

Thomas has worked for the students, faculty and staff at Central Carolina Technical College, Community College of Allegheny County, Miami Dade College, Northland Community and Technical College and Northland Pioneer College.

“Whenever you come into a new environment I think the most important thing you can do is listen, is to be available, to be present and to be an ear,” Thomas said. “You can do all your research and read as much as you possibly can but actually getting experience, hearing from you what you think needs to happen next is invaluable to a new administrator.”

When asked why he was interested in the position, Thomas said he felt his experiences and abilities match up well with the college and the community.

“I’ve worked in small institutions, rural institutions and I understand the value of that institution to its community,” Thomas said. “I feel Like Kaua‘i Community College is an incredibly important part of the county and the whole state. I think with my skills and experience I can come in and help Kaua‘i Community College continue to move forward.”

Thomas complimented the faculty and staff on the variety of programs currently at the college, adding he’s excited to come in and take the next steps. He said he’s good at setting priorities.

“What I’ve done at other institutions is take time speaking to other leadership at the institution,” he said. “I try to approach it that I don’t know everything about the institution or the culture and it’s imperative for me to learn as much as I can.”

Both were asked: “The consequences of the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and continued occupation by the United States today affects native Hawaiians’ access to ‘aina (land) and wai (water), impacting ancestral farming practices in Kaua‘i’s sustainable food systems. Given that KCC sits on many centrally located resources-rich acres, what do you believe is the college’s role in this reconciliation process?”

With several of the Montana college campuses on indigenous lands, McLean said many of the schools have created land acknowledgment statements.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” McLean said. “Campuses continue to engage in meaningful professional development and an understanding on where the campus sits.”

For Thomas, again, it’s about listening and being available to have the discussion.

Thomas holds a doctorate in history from Texas Tech University, a master’s in history from the University of Texas at Austin and bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Eckerd College.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Kauai Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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