Sarah Ray, an Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts graduate who returned to her alma mater to teach social science was surprised in her classroom Wednesday with the news that she has been selected as the School District of Palm Beach County’s Teacher of the Year.
Superintendent Robert Avossa, School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw, Board Member Erica Whitfield, Ray’s parents, husband and fellow teachers walked in to her classroom Wednesday afternoon. Ray fought back tears as Dr. Avossa presented her with flowers and the good news.
“Today, more than ever before, teaching is so critical. The relationships that you build and the lives that you shape are so critical,” Dr. Avossa told Ray.
Ray graduated from Dreyfoos in 2000 and began teaching at the school in 2014. Since she has been at Dreyfoos, she has served as the School Advisory Committee (SAC) chair, senior class advisor, student council advisor and school-wide positive behavior team member.
“I do this all for them,” Ray said, acknowledging her students. “Some of these students I’ve had for four years, and it’s really about them.”
Ray took over the A.R.T.S. (Artists Reaching to Society) Club at the school that was once overseen by beloved Dreyfoos teacher Lea Jefferson, who founded the group but lost her battle with breast cancer in 2015. Club members have raised hundreds of dollars in Jefferson’s honor during the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks over the past three years.
The club, under Ray’s direction, also organizes an annual arts camp for elementary school students. The camp has grown to include 250 student volunteers and 125 students each summer.
“Each year, hundreds of students flock to this camp, which has become so popular a lottery has to be held to gain admittance,” said Dr. Susan Atherley, principal of A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Together, the volunteers in the club have contributed more than 25,000 community services hours since 2014.
“She works hard and she really cares for us,” said senior Isaac Acosta, who is in the A.R.T.S. Club with Ray. “There really are no words to say how great Ms. Ray is.”
Fortunately, Acosta found the words for his lengthy recommendation letter to include in Ray’s nomination. “I was so honored that she asked me,” he said. “And I just knew she’d get it. She truly deserves this.”
Ray is a Google Certified Teacher and District Trailblazer Teacher, who has successfully integrated technology into her classroom, which has helped her excite students about their learning while also monitoring the progress they are making in their studies.
“[Ray] is full of energy that translates into a dedication and eagerness to be a vital part of the school and a dynamic instructor in the classroom,” Atherley said.
Ray’s mother Jane Grandusky was a founding teacher of Dreyfoos School of the Arts and started the Visual Arts Department at the school. Ray cited her admiration for her mom as her inspiration for education in the lengthy application that candidates are required to submit once they are are nominated for the distinction by their school. “As an educator, she taught me that every student has the opportunity to reach for the stars with dedication and drive,” Ray said.
Prior to teaching at Dreyfoos, Ray was part of a team that developed the District’s U.S. History EOC district diagnostic team and has trained 100 fellow high school teacher on AVID strategies to help implement them in their classrooms.
Ray has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida with a major in history and a minor in education and has completed Masters-level coursework at Florida Atlantic University, iTeach U.S. History. She and her husband Stephen live in West Palm Beach with their two dogs.
Ray will serve as Palm Beach County’s nomination for the Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year. The winner of the award is honored during a gala during the summer. She and the other nominees from Palm Beach County Schools will also be honored at a District event sponsored by Braman BMW and planned for May.
“I’m just so happy to be a teacher. It’s what I was always meant to be,” Ray said. “I just want to make sure I help [the students] continue on, and who knows, maybe they will come back to Dreyfoos to teach, too.”