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Entering the 17th year of her teaching career, Jonica Ray has spent the last 16 at Cartmell Elementary. And while some people may be ready to move on, she is just getting started.
After spending the past two years as the assistant principal, Ray was recently promoted to the role of principal after her predecessor, Doug Oak, was promoted to assistant superintendent of the Carroll County School district.
“It’s funny because a lot of times, I tell people, ‘I’ve been in this building for 16 years, I’m like a piece of the furniture,’” Ray said jokingly in an interview Tuesday, July 22. “I’m excited to lead this staff because, number one, they’re a hard working staff. There’s not another staff out there that I would want to lead in my first year as principal. I know their strengths; I know their areas for growth. I know what they need as far as taking them forward as a leader. As far as the students, same thing. I feel like I’ve built relationships with all the students who have gone through our building, so I’m just excited to be able to lead the adults and the students to the next level, using the experience I’ve learned along the way.”
A Carroll County native, Ray graduated from Carroll County High School in 1993. She majored in elementary education at Northern Kentucky University, earned her undergraduate degree in 1997. She earned a master’s degree in reading and writing from NKU in 2001 and continued her education at University of the Cumberlands, where she earned an instructional leadership master’s degree in 2010 and supervisor of instruction master’s degree in 2013. She also earned her national board certification Rank 1 in 2002 and was recertified in 2012.
Ray began her teaching career as a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Carroll County Middle School in 1997. She taught fourth grade at Cartmell for 10 years before being named instructional coach in 2008. She served as assistant principal for two years.
A goal-setter, Ray said becoming principal was one of her long-term goals. “I’m a very goal-oriented person. I kind of made a road map for myself. I set small goals in order to reach my long-term goal.”
Ray said she believes it was important to move slowly in her career and was challenged in each position to push herself to the next level of leadership.
“Mr. Oak has impacted me probably more than he will ever know,” Ray said. “I would say, first and foremost, because not only was he a colleague, he was a good friend. We each had different strengths, and we balanced each other out. That’s what made us such a good working team. We didn’t really operate as an assistant principal and a principal; we really did most things together.”
Ray said Oak knew about her goal to be a principal one day and believesthat he started helping her learn the ropes on how to be an effective principal from the time she stepped into her first leadership role at the school.
“I just have the utmost respect for him as a person and as a leader,” she said.
Former superintendent Lisa James, Ed.D., also mentored her throughout her career. “I feel like, even early on in my classroom years, she recognized my leadership skills,” Ray said. “She knew that I was a goal-oriented person and a lifelong learner and constantly was encouraging me to take my leadership to the next level, get that next leadership certificate that I needed so that way I was prepared any time something opened up. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders.”
Newly promoted superintendent and former assistant superintendent Bill Hogan is another good friend and colleague who influenced Ray’s career. “He’s instilled (in) me that in order to be a good educator you have to be a lifelong learner yourself, encouraging us to read the professional text and attend the professional development and he’s really encouraged me as far as becoming a lifelong learner myself in order to be the best educator that I can be.”
Ray has a number of goals set to help move Cartmell Elementary forward. One of the biggest is increasing parent and community involvement. “We’re in the planning process of that, but I really want the community behind Cartmell, as far as educating these kids.”
She also wants to promote more collaboration between Cartmell and Kathryn Winn Primary. “We’re really a K- through five-school, essentially, operating in two different buildings, so I want to strengthen the communication.”
Ray wants to take the Leader In Me program to the next level by making Cartmell a place with both teacher and student leaders. “We really want to build a school that operates under shared leadership, not just the adults, but the students as well,” she said. “I want people to come into our building and see students in leadership roles when they attend a parent night or a function or something that we have going on here. I want them to see that we have truly given our students leadership roles.”
Of course, increasing student achievement also tops her list of goals for the school year.
“I want to make learning at Cartmell fun,” Ray said. “I want our staff and students to be excited about coming into our building each day. I want them to be proud to be part of Cartmell Elementary.”
Ray has been married to her husband, Jimmy, for 17 years, and they reside in Carroll County. Their son, Justin, will be a junior at CCHS, and their daughter, Jordan, will be an eighth grader at CCMS. Their nephew, Zach Beckham, graduated from CCHS in 2013 and will be a sophomore at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Carrollton.
One thing people may not know about Ray is that she does not view what she does as being a ‘job.’
“I don’t do this for the money, I don’t do it because I need the job, it truly is a passion of mine,” Ray said. “I absolutely love what I do. I get up every morning excited to come in, to see what the new challenges of the day are going to bring.
“I am passionate about working with students that have challenges and barriers in their life. I’ve kind of made it a personal mission for myself to build relationships with those students (and show them) that regardless of your background, regardless of your environmental challenges, regardless of your ability or your knowledge level, you truly can do anything if you set your mind to it, and that’s honestly what I’m passionate about. … It’s about teaching the whole child to be successful in the world that we’re preparing them for.”