WARSAW — Unlike some school administrators who became interested in education at a very young age, Tom Ray didn’t decide until his senior year of college.
Ray, the principal of Washington STEM Academy in Warsaw, grew up in Grant County and graduated from Mississinewa High School in 1983. Then it was on to Ball State University to get a undergraduate degree in education, which he obtained in 1987.
Being a teacher or entering public education was not his first choice of a career. He enrolled at Ball State with aspirations of becoming a computer engineer or going into the mathematics field. “I would say it was God’s will,” Ray said, commenting on how he decided to enter education.
Tending to a seriously sick mother caused him to rethink career possibilities. He thought, “how can I best make a living?” and that led him to decide during his senior year at Ball State to become an education major.
“Life’s circumstances led me into teaching,” he said, “but once I had my first taste of it, the rest is history and there is no going back.”
After graduating from college, he taught one year in the Marion school system in Grant County and then taught various grade levels at Mississinewa for seven years, none of which were in high school.
Eventually, though, Ray felt a bigger tug to impact more kids on a school wide level. So he started pursuing a master’s degree in education administration from Ball State. “I was a part-time student and a full-time teacher,” he said, noting he also coached football, cross country, wrestling and track, was the leader of the youth group at Holy Family Church in Gas City and taught Sunday school classes there.
Ray drove the 45 minutes to Muncie in the evenings and on weekends to get his master’s degree in the days before online classes became available.
His first job in school administration was in 1994 as principal of St. Paul’s Bennett Catholic School in Marion, where he remained until 1997. Then from 1997 to 1999 he was principal at Frances Slocum Elementary in Marion.
How did Ray end up in Warsaw? “I did what all good husbands do; keep your wife happy,” he said. His wife, Kathy, is from Warsaw and “she really wanted to be here.”
He noted Lee Harman, superintendent of Warsaw Community Schools at the time, gave him an opportunity to be the principal at what was then Washington Elementary School in 1999 and he has been at the school since then. He attributed the opening to the hand of God and said “it has been a pure blessing to work here,” adding “I work with kind, compassionate and loving people.”
Much has changed in the nearly 20 years he has been at Washington. Today’s kids are learning things “I could never have imagined” and have access to more opportunities than ever before.
Ray noted kindergarten “is really the new first or even second grade” since the emphasis has shifted to a full day instead of a half day. “They need to know how to read and write and how to do some math,” he said, and kindergarten has become more academic in focus instead of just teaching the kids how to share and get along with others.
Funding for teachers has also changed and the rate of pay has not increased as it did in the past. “There is an unknown factor and teachers just don’t know how much they can make,” he said.
Tom and Kathy have four children: twins Madelyn and Isbel, seniors at Warsaw Community High School; Michael, a sophomore at WCHS; and Lucy, a sixth-grader at Washington STEM. The family attends Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Tom also serves on the Baker Youth Club advisory board, helps supervise high school sporting events and enjoys fly fishing as a hobby.