Fall is approaching, and so is the upcoming Louisiana football season.
Sometimes, your life may take an unexpected turn. For Dr. James Gray, that turn led him to a career in education. Gray '10 is currently serving as superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Public School System, the largest public school system in Louisiana with 50,000 students and 7,000 employees. It's also one of the most diverse in the state.
Gray began his role as superintendent in July 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before this position, he served as Chief of Schools under the leadership of former Superintendent Cade Brumley. Gray has been able to safely and successfully lead his school system through these unprecedented times. Still, he wouldn't be where he is today without the help of his peers and mentors that pushed him to be his best self.
Originally from Opelousas, Gray came from a very humble family that stressed the importance of hard work. Because of his hard work, he received a full basketball scholarship to Grambling State University. Initially, he didn't intend to go into education until he took a trip to an elementary school during his senior year of college to read to students. While he was there, he realized the lack of male instructors at the school. From that moment on, he knew that he needed to fill that void. "It was just that simple," said Gray.
He began his career teaching and coaching at Jeanerette Middle School. It was here that he got the encouragement to pursue his master's degree from a colleague. "I didn't think I could go any further," said Gray. Because of this push, Gray obtained his master's degree from Nicholls State University while working full-time and welcoming his twin sons. After receiving his degree, he went on to work as an assistant principal and principal before deciding to further his education even more at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Gray searched for a doctoral program that would work best for him and discovered the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program at UL Lafayette. "It ended up being one of the best experiences I've had throughout my life," said Gray. One of his favorite parts about the program was getting to work with the outstanding professors. "They challenged us every step of the way," said Gray. After finishing the program, he felt that he learned tons of valuable knowledge that he could apply to his professional career. Gray even still keeps in contact with some of his favorite professors.
As he continues to navigate his first year as superintendent, he's committed to making sure that all students at Jefferson Parish Schools have the tools they need for success. "We want to make sure that we're maintaining our top priority of educating our students," said Gray. For him, finding joy in his profession has never been a problem. "Seeing everyone learning is where [my] true joy comes from," said Gray.
One thing that Gray misses the most about living close to Lafayette is finding good boudin. His sons are also UL Lafayette graduates who still live in the area, so he enjoys trips back to Acadiana to visit them as well.
Gray hopes to set an example as a leader in education by showing others the importance of investing in people. He believes that by investing in the people around you and making them better, you then lift everyone else up as well. "The reason I say this is because that is what happened to me," said Gray.
His passion for education is so strong that he is always trying to encourage others to go into this field. "It's a rewarding field that gives you a sense of worth in so many different ways," said Gray. This rewarding field has led him to a career that he never expected, but it turns out, it was precisely where he was meant to be.
Photo Caption: Dr. James Gray