One would not think of a man with a Scottish heritage and raised in a Scottish community in Virginia Dale, Colorado as being someone with a passion for Native American culture. But such is very much the case with Ray Boyd, former Head of School and Chaplain at Lillian Vallely School and, still today, a very active member of the school community.
Ray has been a teacher for over 50 years and travelled a good portion of the country doing so. After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in botany, Ray first went to teach on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico; then to the Navajo reservation in Arizona where he was first a teacher and then an administrator of eight hundred students in grades 5-8. After five years or so there, he knew enough of the Navajo language that he didn’t require an interpreter.
Ever the migrant, Ray returned to Fort Collins, the town of his alma mater, to teach Mexican-American children in elementary school. Soon after, he took a break from teaching and moved to Kalispell, Montana to pursue what he thought was his real calling—tuning pianos! Although that stint lasted only a year, it remained an avocation of his for twenty-seven years!
After earning a master’s degree at Idaho State University and taking a few other administrative tours at Blackfoot Elementary and in the state of Nevada, Ray was named principal at Fort Hall Elementary in 1997 following the tragic death of its beloved principal in a car accident. In fact, officials decided to close all the district’s schools for the day to enable teachers and students to pay their last respects on the day of the funeral.
“It was a very trying time for the entire school community,” Ray admits. “In fact, I spent more time counseling the counselors that I did anything else. I just let them talk, even if it meant leaving the school late at night.”
By now, one should have the measure of the man who had worn many hats, adapted to many cultures, and simply loves to teach.
“I was putting together the church bulletin at my church, Emanuel Lutheran in Blackfoot [Idaho], when I ran across a notice that Lillian Vallely School was looking for a volunteer tutor,” Ray explained. He was instantly accepted in August 2006. By January 2007, Ray was named Lillian Vallely’s Head of School. He’s been connected—one way or another—with the school ever since.
As for fond memories at LVS, Ray was asked if any one student stuck out in his mind as someone who had those “most likely to succeed” qualities. He lit up at the opportunity to brag about a fifth-grader we’ll call ‘Jim,’ who often shadowed his principal and found ways to stay engaged with him. Ray applied this famous quote about education to Jim: My teacher thought I was smarter than I was. So I was.
“Being the only male teacher in school, I did a lot of things with Jim,“ explained Ray. “I was someone who believed in him and, perhaps, that gave him the ability to rise up himself.” What the mentor described as Jim’s skills at “fancy dancing” also contributed to the student’s blossoming.
I asked where Jim was today. Ray didn’t exactly know but did the math in his head and guessed he must be a junior or senior in high school. After a recent Lillian Vallely pow wow, green beans were served for lunch. This vegetable immediately reminded Ray of his mentee, who apparently devoured the vegetable while a LVS student. Funny what can spark a person’s memory.
Ray left his position as Head of School in 2011, but stayed on as Chaplain a few more years and now devotes his time to grant writing and mentoring the school’s new principal, Lee Griffin. He also serves on the LVS Board. Despite his A+ reputation as an administrator, Ray faults himself for not taking the school into the technology realm fast enough. The school has since reached that goal. And, thankfully, in the proper context, meaning not as a baby sitter or as a disciplinary tool.
Now, moving forward, he’d like to see the school’s curricula remain aligned with Idaho state standards. It’s a tough task when a school like LVS doesn’t always have the latest resources to meet the needs of the individual student.
“If you keep cooking in the same pot, you’re going to get the same stew!” Ray exclaims. “Something gives every day because of the lack of resources.”
But teaching is an inexact science. Students at LVS are there to learn much more than a standard curriculum. “Yes, we do test students at the beginning and end of each school year, as required by the state, and we expect to see improvements in their scores,” Ray admitted. “But I’d just as soon see our students’ self-esteem grow as I would their scores.”
Lillian Vallely School is truly unique; it provides a safe place for a group of children to feel good about themselves and loved by a big family of adults. When they leave LVS after fifth grade, they are able to function better wherever they next find themselves. Ray adds, “education in the pure sense will come because the students are freed up from worrying about anything else.”
When asked how he might pitch a philanthropist like Bill Gates for funding, Ray replied, “We’re a private school and don’t need anyone’s permission to teach about culture and faith. But we are at a competitive disadvantage in terms of pay and benefits; we draw mainly from a pool of retired teachers [and those two are leaving in 2016] or newly-minted college graduates.”
“Tell Bill Gates,” offers Ray, with an ounce of hope, “we continually struggle to find money for staff, and that’s what we need more of.”