East Wake Academy superintendent Stephen Gay said he likes the welcoming atmosphere in Zebulon, along with all the State red.
Q: You have spent your entire life in education but surely, as a young boy, you must have dreamed of being a fireman or major league baseball player?
A: No, truthfully, I always wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to help people. However, when I was little, I didn’t see any male teachers and I did not have a male teacher until fifth grade – Mr. Gordan. It was just something I always wanted to do. I grew up in Rocky Mount and graduated from Rocky Mount Senior High School in 1984. I had a few teachers tell me that I might want to pursue another field. It was not that they didn’t love their job or the profession, they just knew how difficult the job will be. So after I graduated high school, I entered N.C. State with plans to be an engineer. I took the classes and just hated it. One day, I was taking a test in a chemical engineering class. I realized, ‘I cannot do this for the rest of my life.’ I walked right of that class and I went straight to the registrar’s office and changed my major. I graduated in 1988 with my degree in secondary math education. I taught high school math for six years.
Q: Why leave the classroom?
A: I did not leave teaching because I did not like it. I saw the opportunity for career advancement and to effect change.
Q: Why did you leave the traditional county-school system and pursue charters?
A: I wanted to see a great idea come to life.
Q: Charters have been around a while now but there is still a lot of confusion when it comes to public perception. What do you think is the most common misconception?
A: That they are private schools and we get to pick our students. Charters are public schools.
Q: Your wife is also a principal. What about your three kids – are they pursing education as a career?
A: I have a son at Chapel Hill (UNC), a son at Wake Forest (University) and a daughter about to graduate high school and she is going to UNC. My sons are history and political science majors, and my daughter is going to major in physical therapy.
A: I enjoy family time. I love to travel. And I like home projects. The first house my wife and I owned was built in the 1920s and it was four apartments that we converted into our home. I remember taking out a wall and finding the staircase banister. The house we have now in Statesville was built in 1926 and we worked on refurbishing that one as well. In downtown Statesville, we are the first non-family members (of a home’s original owners) to own a house. We found a deed to the property, handwritten in 1919.
Q: You like to travel. What trip made the biggest impact on you?
A: I can’t think of any one trip, but I have taken quite a few trips to New York City with my family. I love New York – we are big Yankees fans. We just like exploring the city. I also like the beach. I recently got back on a trip to Asheville, just exploring the downtown. We saw a Darius Rucker concert. Every Sunday, I stop in Chapel Hill and have lunch with my son.
Q: What person made the biggest impact on your life?
A: I would have to say my grandfather, Willie Gay. He just showed me the right way to treat people. And of course my parents and wife have been a big influence on me.
Q: Gay is such a common name around eastern Wake County. Do you have a lot of people asking you, ‘Aren’t you so-and-so’s boy?’
A: My family is from the Enfield and Whitakers area, which is just down the road, so we’re probably all related (laughing).
Q: Has there been any pleasant surprises you have found about Zebulon life?
A: I like the sense of community – it is a very welcoming atmosphere. My wife and I have plans of eventually locating in the area. And there are a lot of State fans here, which I like. There are a lot of Carolina fans in Statesville – which I don’t understand. I mean, ‘State’ is in the name (laughing).
Correspondent Dena Coward