CSMCE | Profiles

Kristine Ray encourages her students

Kristine Ray

Primarily Math, NebraskaMATH

Kindergarten Teacher
Lincoln Public Schools

It’s all thanks to a stranger named Penny.

Coincidentally, Penny couldn’t understand her finances. On the first day of every month, Kristine Ray, then assistant branch manager for a local bank, would explain to Penny why she only had a certain amount of dollars in her account after her bills were automatically paid. Ray wondered why the longtime customer didn’t understand. And that’s when she made a decision.

“I realized I was spending most of my time arguing with adults who could not think logically about their money situations,” said the Primarily Math Cohort 4 Lincoln teacher, who quit her job at the bank to finish her teaching degree at UNL. “I decided I was going to become a teacher so students would grow up to be adults who could be productive members of society. I was going to save the world, one classroom at a time!”

Ray has been teaching for five years now at Lincoln Public Schools’ West Lincoln Elementary School. It’s been a long road to success. Growing up, Ray’s parents were blue-collar workers. She and her family didn’t know much about college, but Ray said, “I knew enough that I was only going to get one shot at it, and I couldn’t mess around.”

Led by her love of a volunteer position at the University of Nebraska Child Care Project in the old YWCA building, Ray started upon a teaching degree. After attending UNK for a year, she came back to Lincoln, got married and started a family of her own. While working at a bank, she completed the UNL academic transfer program at Southeast Community College. She went on to student-teach at West Lincoln where she taught second grade for one year before switching to kindergarten.

Since finishing Primarily Math in 2013, Ray has continued her graduate work at UNL and will earn her Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education in May 2015.

Other opportunities also have come her way. Next summer, she will co-teach a cohort of LPS Title 1 teachers taking Primarily Math courses; she has had a Ph.D. student come into her classroom to film and conduct interviews; she co-taught a parent group on mathematics and the Common Core; and she has sat on two panels regarding her experience with Primarily Math.

“Hands down, Primarily Math is the best professional development I have ever taken,” the Lincoln native said. “I feel confident in making IEP goals for students. I know how to analyze and assess student errors and place them on a trajectory if needed. I have a sense of curiosity around student thinking, more than I ever have before, and a sense of risk-taking in the classroom to push the envelope a little more. I think about, what can these kindergarteners really do? And I get excited about all of it!”

Instilling this excitement within parents and colleagues has become natural at West Lincoln Elementary, where Primarily Math Cohort 1 participant Lynn Fuller is assistant principal and Ray’s fellow Cohort 4 peer Lisa Sparks is a first-grade teacher.

“Our school is always functioning as a PLC group,” Ray said. “We collaborate in impromptu hallway meetings regarding an upcoming lesson or test, and we meet weekly on Wednesdays to problem-solve any issues that have come up or to offer advice for upcoming curriculum. We have bi-monthly parent information nights, one dedicated to literacy and the other to mathematics. We are hoping to instill a love and passion for learning in our parents as well as our students.”

This collaboration inspires Ray to become a leader in LPS.

“I think it takes a leader to step up, open up his or her classroom for others to come in to observe, co-teach, problem-solve, make meaningful, purposeful plans, and guide reflection on best practices,” Ray said. “I think it also takes someone who is willing to say, ‘I don’t have all the answers, nor do I know them, but I do know how to make a plan to start.’ I enjoy working as part of a team that continually keeps student needs, and what is developmentally appropriate, at the heart of everything they do.”

Building these relationships with peers in LPS and finding her own strengths while working in a peer group were cultivated for Ray through her Primarily Math experience.

“I can honestly say through my educational career, I have never been pushed so hard, or been so rewarded, so I am a huge advocate of this program,” said the mother of two biological children and one foster child. “It has done wonders for me and for the students in my classroom.”