Bernice A. Ray
Teacher-Principal, 1929-1968–A leader for a generation of students
Bernice A. Ray was principal of the Ray School for 25 years. She came to Hanover in 1929, after teaching second grade in a one-room classroom in Glover, Vt. and in her hometown of Barton, Vt. She was born in Inverness, Quebec, and grew up in Barton. After teaching at the Hanover Elementary School for 16 years, she was named Principal in 1945.
Milt Frye, long time principal of the Marion Cross Elementary School in Norwich, VT., spoke about Bunny Ray, Francis C. Richmond, and Marion Cross, three educators who the SA U 70 elementary schools and Middle School are named for, in the 2003, Here In Hanover magazine: “The women who took up the profession of teaching in those days were the cream of the crop. The most gifted and talented young women only had a few options for employment outside of the home.” Superintendent, Dr. Bill Zimmerman, at a very young age, found this standard for excellence in Bunny Ray.
Dr. Zimmerman arrived in Hanover in the 1960′s, as the newly hired Superintendent of Schools. He was 29 years old. The principal at the Hanover elementary school was “Miss Ray.” “That was her formal name,” said Dr. Zimmerman in an interview. “Her informal name was ‘Bunny’. I never heard her called ‘Bernice’.”
When Dr. Zimmerman first met Bunny Ray, “I realized,” he said, that she was a ‘mature’ woman,” who ultimately broke in a 29 year old Superintendent of Schools.
Dr. Zimmerman said, “I came to realize she was a gifted learner. She didn’t have a lot of formal training, but she had life experience”. When talking about Miss Ray’s work, Zimmerman added, “She was organized, a planner, and a very good leader of the staff. She understood the needs of the students.” He continued, “She was statuesque. She carried herself with dignity. And, behind her authoritative appearance was a rich sense of humor. She was good at telling stories, and was known for telling a good one.”
Dr. Zimmerman remembered developing a Performance Based Program Budget. “Of all the principals,” he said, hers came in with the decimals in place and all lined up, each line item with a rationale. She had studied the system and worked it out perfectly.”
“One year,” Dr. Zimmerman remembered, “we needed a new 5th grade teacher.” He explained that they looked over the applications putting them into one of three piles: “definite,” “maybe,” or “reject.” “In the reject pile I saw a picture of a young girl in a bikini holding a martini glass. Of course it caught my eye.” I asked Bunny why she had rejected this application, the woman seemed very talented with a master degree and some years of experience. Bunny said, ‘We can’t have people like that. We can’t have people like that.” I said, “Let’s interview her.” We did. Bunny later reported that the candidate had arrived in a business suit, and proved herself the best applicant. She got the job.”
Another time Bunny showed her ability to adapt was when mini skirts became popular. It wasn’t the students with the problem. It was the teachers. “Bunny made a rule,” Zimmerman explained, “that only long skirts could be worn in school. So, the teachers came in slacks.” Zimmerman said he had to talk to Bunny, “If I were a teacher and came in in my kilt…” She concurred with that, along with the argument that elementary teachers needed to sit on the floor and jump up and down all day.
Dr. Zimmerman also told the story of the wonderful music teacher who was pregnant. Bunny came to him and said, “We need to find a new music teacher.” Dr. Zimmerman asked why, “The one we have is so good.” Bunny responded, “She is pregnant and will soon show. It is against our policy to have a pregnant woman teach.”
Dr. Zimmerman asked when she was due. “She is due in June,” Bunny responded.” She was such a good teacher, Dr. Zimmerman consulted with Dr. Jack Schleicher, who had delivered just about every baby in Hanover. The Superintendent asked, “What is the policy about teaching during pregnancy?”
“There is no policy that I know of,” Dr. Schleicher responded.
Dr. Zimmerman reflected, “She does have to push a piano from one room to the next.”
“Good. Exercise is good!” exclaimed Dr. Schleicher. Bunny admitted there ws no written policy. “It’s just the way it is,” she said. The music teacher taught until June, and had her baby on a weekend.
One of the many leadership qualities Bunny possessed was being flexible. She knew when to step up to the changing times.
Bunny supported the teachers to the community and the School Board. In an article in the Fall, 2003, Hanover, entitled “Women of the Schools,” Ruth L. Brown, long time second grade teacher at the Ray School was quoted: “Bunny always listened, and often would talk us through our ideas. She would support us completely, and asked us what we thought would be accomplished by a change, and how we thought it would benefit our students.” Brown added, “She was open to new ideas.”