Washington STEM Academy principal Tom Ray looks forward to retirement at the end of this school year. Ray, principal at the academy for 22 years, has been in education 34 years. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union

Washington STEM Academy Principal Tom Ray will be retiring from education at the end of the 2020-21 school year after 22 years in the position as principal.

Ray said he is past the 85 rule, which allows employees to retire when their experience and age is at 85 or greater. He said he is old enough to have the rule in place, but young enough to have a second career.

“And so being here in Warsaw … wow, wow, wow. What a very fortunate place that really allows for me to do that,” Ray said. He noted the stars lined up for him. Not a whole lot of people can say they can retire and have a full second career and he said he’s going to take advantage of that.

He said leaving, he’s at the top of the world. “It’s the best job in town. The kids are great. The parents are great. The teachers are great. The central office is great. This is a wonderful community, wonderful school system. I’ve lived here for 22 years. I’ve been principal here for 22 years. I’ve raised my kids here. I’ve gotten married in this community,” Ray said. He said he is blessed that God had plans for him in Warsaw and “it’s been terrific.”

Being in Warsaw offers him another opportunity for a career. When asked if Ray has thought about what he wants to do after he retires from Warsaw Community Schools, he said, “I’m going to tell you, yes. I’m going to tell you, I can’t tell you yet, though. It’s one of those … I do have a plan but right now, I’m going to do it’s kind of one of those things we’re not ready to announce yet.”

Ray, originally from Gas City, has been in education for 34 years. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ball State University. Before coming to WCS to be the principal at Washington, he

was a teacher and principal in Grant County. When asked what drew him to the Warsaw area, he said

his wife is from the area. The superintendent at the time gave Ray a call, even though Ray wasn’t

actively looking for a job, and said he’d have to have a talk with Ray. He said the rest is history.

Ray has seen some changes in education throughout his career in education.

At Ray’s first teaching job, the principal saw Ray had a math degree and so he walked Ray into a room

full of Mac computers and was told, “If you have a math degree, surely you know how to work these

things.” Ray said he did know how to work computers and his principal asked how the computers turned

on. From there, Ray said he dove into it without a problem. Granted, he initially went to college for

computer programming and had some experience with computers. Ray said he’s seen the transition

between that experience on his first day of his first job where people didn’t know to turn computers on to

where student have iPads.

“Things have changed and significantly,” Ray said. WCS uses computers or technology to enhance the

learning and move it forward. “Instead of just here’s another worksheet on an iPad or something.

Warsaw doesn’t use it that way.” Ray said when he was kid, students had to look up things in

encyclopedias, as where today, students can google the information.

“We’re helping kids … OK, now that you have the information, first being safe, but now that you have the

information, what do you with it? So you’re watching students being able to go further and deeper

because of the amount of information they have in a matter of seconds and where all of that links to,

what information you get from just one link,” Ray said. Ray said the students are using the technology to

do things such as create games for a presentation.

“So that sticks. When you can create, apply, they’re actually becoming the teachers themselves,” Ray

said, noting students are learning from other students and at some points, the teachers are actually

learning from the students. Learning has “just been transformed” in his 34 years in education, he said.

Through the years, at Washington, they’ve adjusted their teaching methods over the years. Washington

was recognized as a STEM school in 2015. Washington, and other Warsaw schools, have used partnerships in the community to help in education. One way the school does that is Washington STEM has a beehive in its school. When students learn about bees, they not only use the beehive, but they read books about bees on different reading levels depending on the student’s reading level. It helps the students learn about bees at their reading levels. Students also use 3D printers to make hips.

When asked if there’s any plans to celebrate Ray’s retirement, he said, “I’m going to say to celebrate my

retirement, let’s just keep going, let’s keep going everybody. We’re a school. Let’s stay focused on the

task at hand and that’s learning. I’m going to tell you, we’re going to celebrate it, so speak. But mine is, I don’t want it to be a distraction. I really want it be the task at hand. Let’s not get distracted.”

When asked what Ray will miss about his teaching experience, Ray said, “I’ll miss it all. To say, ‘I’m not going to miss that,’ I’m going to miss it all. I’m telling you, this has been a great experience. From parents to kids to partners you work with, it’s a great community, it’s a great school corporation.”

When teachers step back and let the students learn, Ray said he’s going to miss the passion on the students’ eyes. “I’m going to miss how kids learn together. I’m going to miss recess. I’m going to miss parent pick-up and drop-off. I’m going to miss it all.”