Parsons USD 503 Superintendent Lori Ray has been named the Southeast Kansas Music Educators Association Administrator of the Year.
The annual award recognizes administrators who have demonstrated continuing leadership in developing, improving and supporting music education within a wider commitment to arts education, including music, theater, visual arts and dance.
“Nominees should be exceptionally skillful within their administrative unit, showing special support for the arts as an indispensable part of the school curriculum. Indicators of an administrator’s commitment to arts education might include personal attitude and philosophy, program development and improvement, sensitivity to the special needs of space, scheduling, and equipment, leadership in providing opportunities for professional growth of teachers, and leadership in providing local community and financial support,” KMEA states.
“It was a big honor and a big surprise,” Ray said.
Ray has worked in the 503 district for 25 years, with 17 of those years being dedicated to administration, as principal at Lincoln School and Parsons Middle School and three years now as superintendent.
“Lori is the dictionary definition of a fine arts supporter,” USD 503 director of choirs Aaron Burke said in his nomination letter. “She has gone above and beyond to make sure we are providing the best music education here in Parsons. From supporting an orchestra program with instruments and supplies starting at second grade, to funding new choral risers, to new timpani, chimes, several winds, a marimba, xylophone and new uniforms for our band.”
“Lori has been an avid supporter of Parsons’ music programs since day one,” added Lauren Burke, USD 503 director of orchestras. “As principal of Lincoln Elementary, Parsons Middle School and superintendent of USD 503, she has always made the orchestra program feel like a priority. In her few years as superintendent, she has consistently made the arts a financial priority, giving us the money to repair instruments, buy new instruments for growing programs, and is always taking into consideration views about how we can construct our schedules to grow the best possible programs. Lori is also always a face I can depend on seeing at our performances.”
Numerous letters from teachers, staff and former students praised Ray not only for her support of the arts, but also in the many other capacities she serves working with teachers, parents and students.
“Lori is a wonder leader, and I have witnessed this firsthand, especially during the school shutdown in the spring 2020. Lori helped deliver meals to children whose families could not get to one of our school sites to pick up meals. Lori wanted to ensure as many of our area children as possible had access to our continued school lunch program as she could,” USD 503 elementary counselor Marcie Ryan said in her nomination letter. “Another reason that I believe Lori deserves the honor of being named the State KMEA Administrator of the Year is because she works very hard to take care of our faculty, staff, and students. She works long hours to ensure she is knowledgeable about the current pandemic and the newest and most up to date protocols and recommendations from the health department, the Kansas Board of Education, and the governor. This is a very unprecedented time we are living in and nobody learned how to navigate life through a pandemic and school closure while they were training for their current positions and yet, Lori does this with grace. She is a calming voice to so many in our district… .”
Teacher and parent Tiffany Hicks said in both capacities she believes Ray has been an outstanding administrator for USD 503.
“Our district is very blessed to have such a caring and committed individual leading our teachers, staff and students,” Hicks said. “Her support of the fine arts is yet another area where our kids feel a belonging and sense of pride.”
“In all of Lori’s fantastic qualities as an administrator, I would say the most important is her ability to empathize and help her faculty/staff through difficult times and mistakes made,” Lauren Burke said. “She has helped me learn that mistakes are normal and has helped me learn from them. I have never felt put down or chastised in my time at USD 503. It takes a remarkable leader to help a team learn and grow while also making them feel validated and supported.”
Teachers commended her for her leadership, with one touting her as the “super-est super” in Kansas.
“Over the past three years of her service to our district, Lori has worked tirelessly to build a district-wide family,” teacher Rachel Skinner said. “She has taken every concern seriously, whether it is from a teacher, student, or parent. She has taken the time to listen, read, and respond to thousands of requests, demands, and fears. She has remained our one constant through one of the worst times imaginable in education.”
Letter after letter reflected admiration for Ray, even from students.
Kaden Rowe said she started middle school in 2014, at which time she joined band.
Rowe said since she began, Ray has attended almost every music-related event in the school district and has taken time to congratulate students on their performances.
“She has seen the band, as well as our other music programs, grow and has done her best to give them everything they need to grow. She has approved a grant for the band to get new uniforms after years of having old and worn-out ones. She has donated various instruments and helped supply the guitar program with everything they needed to start off,” Rowe wrote. “She is a person very supportive of everyone in the district and especially in the fine arts programs. If there is anyone who deserves the KMEA Administrator Award of the Year it would be Ms. Ray.”