As a proud Buckeye, Dr. Patrick Spray wasn’t familiar with Indianapolis’s namesake university when he initially started his college search. That is until he was recruited by Coach Bill Bless to play for the University of Indianapolis Football team as a defensive lineman.
While he was certain about being a Greyhound athlete, Dr. Spray was unsure about his career path and entered his freshman year as undecided. He spent his first semesters exploring the world of business and education, taking a few classes in each area to discover which he was more passionate about. He soon realized that his passion for serving others would be best served with a degree in elementary education.
“I think one of the biggest factors was just figuring out where I could land that would have a significant impact and influence on others,” said Dr. Spray. “I chose education, particularly elementary education, and I love the decision I’ve made.”
Unlike secondary education, elementary education did not require Dr. Spray to focus on a single subject area, like English or social studies, allowing him to take on a more holistic approach when engaging with his students.
“I considered different areas of secondary education, but I just couldn’t see myself really honing in on just English, or just science,” said Dr. Spray. “I liked elementary education, especially upper elementary grades, because you have the opportunity to engage and wrap a lot of those things thematically together.”
After graduating in 1994, Dr. Spray began to climb the ladder, working his way up from teacher to assistant principal to principal to assistant superintendent, and, most recently, to superintendent. His journey took him to schools all across the state, helping him gain experience in serving various communities, including rural, suburban, and urban school students. While this invaluable experience certainly prepared him to step into the role of superintendent, what really pushed him to succeed was the support network he had built around him since his days at UIndy.
“I think it had a lot to do with some really good mentors along the way, family support, and a passion for leadership,” explained Dr. Spray. “Dave Lewis, my defensive coordinator, and Bill Bless, my head football coach, really helped me out. Without the opportunities that they provided me, it truly would have impacted my trajectory and where I ended up now because, at times as a young man, I was a ship without a rudder.”
The relationships he made at UIndy influenced Dr. Spray’s career trajectory more than he expected.
“Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to have some field experiences here in Perry Township when I was an undergrad at UIndy,” said Dr. Spray.
During his undergraduate studies, Professor Martha Morris, led Dr. Spray’s children’s literature course on a trip to observe classes at the newly-opened Mary Bryan Elementary. The experience established a strong connection to Perry Township for Dr. Spray, one that would lead to a full circle moment as he assumed the role of superintendent.
The transition to superintendent hasn’t been without its challenges. The effects of the pandemic are still being seen and felt in classrooms. Perry Township is also home to the most English language learners in Indianapolis, as about a third of their students are from refugee families fleeing turmoil in South America, the Congo, and Burma. The unique needs of these students may seem intimidating to some, but to Dr. Spray, they are an opportunity to make a real, life-changing impact. One way Dr. Spray is tackling these challenges is through partnerships with community organizations, including UIndy.
Perry Meridian High School and Southport High School are a part of the Center of Excellence in Leadership and Learning’s (CELL) Early College High School program, which allow students to earn both a high school diploma and up to two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree, or an associate degree through different curricular pathways. This program specifically aims to serve students who are typically underrepresented in higher education, including low-income young people, first-generation college students, English language learners, and students of color.
Additionally, several Perry Township students participated in UIndy’s Summer Success Camp in 2023. The Summer Success Camp hosted high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors on campus to explore future career paths and to experience higher education in person.
“UIndy has been a good partner for that in a lot of ways,” said Dr. Spray. “In addition to the Early College High School program and Summer Success Camp, UIndy has provided us with mentors from the engineering school and tours of the engineering facility for our students. It’s been a great partnership, and with the University of Indianapolis right in our backyard, it’s something we have to continue to maximize.”
As part of that ongoing partnership, Dr. Spray hopes to see more UIndy education majors join Perry Township. While education as a whole is facing many challenges, Dr. Spray encourages any students who “have the heart for serving kids and for making a difference” to pursue a career in teaching.
“It’s a great career path that is very fulfilling and has a lot of opportunity for upward mobility if you are interested in leadership.”