December 16, 2019

Purposeful Journey

By: John Holt

Growing up as a military brat, KIPP Journey Collegiate sixth grade English Language Arts teacher, Chae Ray attended five elementary schools and four high schools. Moving and transitioning proved to be a constant theme during her upbringing, and it’s continued into her professional career – in a way.

While some would struggle with the vast amounts of change and newness, Ray has always attempted to embrace it.

“I think part of who I am is because I’ve had a military brat experience,” Ray said. “I’ve been able to see so many things, understand so many perspectives, and be around so many different types of people.”


Ray’s journey at KIPP began in 2012 as a seventh grade ELA teacher at KIPP Voyage Academy for Girls in Houston. Having previously taught one year with LaMarque ISD, Ray remembers initially struggling at Voyage with nailing down the flow of her teaching lessons and finding a comfort level when she interacted with parents.

She credits former KIPP Voyage School Leader Tasha Ginn for helping ease some of her nerves as well as encouraging her to achieve greatness.

“I put a lot of trust in her,” Ray shared of Ginn. “She used to sit down and do our one year, three year, and five year professional goals. Not only lay out our goals, but lay out our check points for those goals.”

Ray said that Ginn made it known that one always needed to know where they were going, what they wanted, and what they were striving toward. That shared wisdom has never left Ray.


Following the 2013-14 school year, Ray’s husband earned a promotion, which forced them to relocate to Austin. Never considering leaving KIPP or education, Ray transitioned to KIPP Austin Collegiate where she taught English I and II for the 2014-15 school year. While she remained with KIPP, she was in new territory working at the high school level and in a different city.

The time there, however, allowed her to learn the ins-and-outs of becoming a literacy teacher and during the same school year, she came to the realization that she was best suited to serve middle school students. “At the middle school level,” Ray said, “we talk about college all the time. Then, when you’re at a KIPP high school, it’s so high stakes. You think about everything you do because it so directly impacts that kid’s GPA. The kid’s GPA impacts what schools they can get into,” Ray explained.

“I really enjoy the middle school curriculum. High school is all about analysis and papers. It’s a different world. I love that part of it, but middle school is definitely my sweet spot.”

The 2015-16 school year, Ray joined the staff at KIPP Austin Vista Middle School and she has taught at the middle school level ever since.


Ray envisioned herself staying at KIPP Austin Vista Middle School for the long-haul. But, when her husband had a job opportunity in Houston, the couple found themselves on the move again early in the summer of 2016.

Once the move was completed, Ray met with KIPP Courage College Prep School Leader Eric Schmidt and the two quickly agreed that KIPP Courage would be her next home. “Courage was in the perfect spot,” Ray remarked.

Ray would teach sixth and eighth grade ELA over the course of the next three years at Courage. And the influence she had on her students was beyond significant.


D’Asha Dillard, a current freshman at YES Prep Northbrook, had Ray as her sixth and eighth grade ELA teacher while attending KIPP Courage. “She is my favorite teacher of all-time,” Dillard stated. “I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”

Dillard credits Ray for a variety of things, but most of all for helping her develop a love for reading. “In fifth grade, I hated reading,” Dillard said. “I did very bad on the STAAR test because I didn’t really care about reading. Now, you can barely see me without having a book in my hand.”

Dillard noted that what makes Ray an effective teacher is the unwavering belief she displays in all of her students. Before major tests, Dillard expressed that Ray would write letters to her and her classmates. The letters proved to be uplifting in a time of need. “She would write me a letter, and I would read the letter before the test, and start actually believing in myself,” Dillard said. “It helped me.”


Alison Cumbley is the founding School Leader of KIPP Journey Collegiate, which opened its doors this past August with 290 students serving fifth and sixth grade. Cumbley has always been a believer in the hallmark of a good school is its literacy program, and noted that Ray checked all of the boxes in what she was looking for in a founding ELA teacher.

“It was a no-brainer,” Cumbley shared regarding her hiring decision. “She is ELA. She is reading. She is excitement about books and literacy, about kids, and about getting kids to read. Aside from just being an amazing person, she has the journey of literacy in her head.”

Ray had always envisioned being part of a founding school staff and jumped at the opportunity.

“I’ve caught different schools at the end of founding,” Ray said, “but never have been at one since day one. Being able to do that here has been really, really great.”

Even after eight years of teaching experience, Ray admits that nothing could have prepared her to be a founding teacher. Thus far, however, she’s happily enjoying the experience.

“No day is really the same as the day after or the day before,” Ray commented. “It’s been such a rewarding challenge.”


Every year at KIPP, four Houston teachers are recognized as recipients of The Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award (KETA), which has awarded over $3.7 million in grants to more than 250 teachers since the program was established in 2001. Each KIPP Kinder winner is surprised during a Team & Family Reunion gathering of all school staff and receives a $25,000 grant.

Earlier this year – with her family and loved ones in attendance – Ray was surprised and recognized as a 2019 KETA recipient. Her mother flew in from Georgia for the occasion and one of her sisters traveled in from Louisiana.

“That day was crazy,” Ray said looking back. Between laughter, she reminisced, “So many lies were told that day.”

The honor was a culmination of the notable work Ray has produced at each KIPP school she’s served.

“When I think about being a master teacher,” Cumbley said, “there’s not a lot of people I think about. But she is one. She believes in studying her craft. She believes in putting in above and beyond work into literally everything that she does.”


One year ago, Ray obtained her National Board Certification in Early Adolescence/ELA and is just one of four KIPP teachers nationally to have earned the NBCT designation. She also has been an Induction Teacher Leader for the past three years with the Teaching Excellence program, which provides transformational support through proven coaching strategies, impactful professional learning, and a streamlined Alternative Certification Pathway (ACP) for all teachers new to YES Prep, as well as select teachers from KIPP Houston, Spring Branch ISD, BakerRipley, Etoile Academy, and Yellowstone Academy/College Prep.

More so than anyone, Ray understands that growth in her profession never ends. With improvement always top of mind, every summer she focuses on one or two areas that she wants to fine-tune for the following school year.

“I’m that nerdy teacher,” Ray said. “I have a subscription to Ed Week. I read a lot of education journals. I do a lot of research and action research on my own and really want to understand what the best practices are out there for literacy and what I’m doing in my classroom. ”

In the years to come, Ray aspires to increase her impact even more. As she continues to ponder what that impact will be, she has no plans of ever leaving her KIPP Texas Team & Family.

“At KIPP, what I love is that people really do live by our credo: when I need help, I know I can ask. I know when I ask, somebody is going to help me. Every moment is a Team & Family moment. You have to consider the Team & Family,” Ray said.

Ray operates with the KIPP Texas Team & Family at the forefront of her mind, which has undoubtedly strengthened both her individual as well as our collective impact. We are thankful to call Ray, and our thousands of other KIPP Texas teammates part of our Team & Family.

If you’re interested in joining our team and family, go to for more information.