KBE SPOTLIGHT | Education was Patrice McCrary’s ‘yellow brick road’

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Patrice McCrary, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, watches a student display his work in computer programming during a visit to Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County). Photo by Morgan Watson, Jan. 31, 2020
Patrice McCrary, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, watches a student display his work in computer programming during a visit to Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County). McCrary said she wants to spend as much time as possible in Kentucky’s schools, looking for things they’re doing well that can be replicated in other schools.
Photo by Morgan Watson, Jan. 31, 2020
  • McCrary, the 2003 Kentucky Teacher of the year, spent most of her teaching career in the Warren County schools, teaching at every level from kindergarten through 6th grade and serving as a curriculum coordinator.
  • McCrary said she wants to spend as much time as possible in Kentucky’s schools during her time on the board, looking for things they’re doing well that can be replicated.

By Mike Marsee
mike.marsee@education.ky.gov

Patrice McCrary’s life changed when she raised her hand.

She was a high school student growing up in modest circumstances in Mississippi, where her needs were met but nothing else was guaranteed. She had made the comment that she would love to be a teacher, but she couldn’t really see a path to make that happen.

That changed one day during her junior year when the school counselor came into her study hall and said he needed someone to volunteer in the guidance office.

“My hand shot up,” McCrary said. “Through that year of working in there, I learned how to complete the FAFSA form, how to complete applications for entry into college and I did it all on my own. I got work study, I got grants, I got scholarships and I got to go exactly where I wanted to go to college.”

That led McCrary to a 31 1/2-year career in what she said is the best vocation.

“I can’t imagine anybody not wanting to be a teacher, because I think it’s just the best profession in the world,” she said.

McCrary, who sits on the Kentucky Board of Education, told the board in her first meeting that public education was her “yellow brick road,” the route to possibilities beyond the small-town life she knew.

“I came from a very humble background. There was one year that we didn’t have enough money to buy meat to put on the table, so we ate from our garden. I never went hungry … but it was a struggle. It was not easy,” she said. “Getting my education is what opened up a world to me. I want every child in Kentucky to find that yellow brick road.”

The road led McCrary to Blue Mountain College, where she became a first-generation college graduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

After she and her husband moved from Mississippi to Texas to Kentucky, she obtained a master’s degree in education from Western Kentucky University.

McCrary spent all but five years of her teaching career in the Warren County schools, teaching at every level from kindergarten through 6th grade. She served as a curriculum coordinator at Cumberland Trace Elementary School and “on every committee known.”

She was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year in 2003 and was one of the first class of inductees into the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame at WKU in 2008. She also was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2009.

She retired in June 2019, though she continues to volunteer one day a week at her old school.

“I have seen many programs come and go, so many initiatives. But what I have seen remain constant is good teaching, so I’m excited to be in a position now where I can have a voice about what is taking place in those classrooms, what our teachers need to make our students successful,” McCrary said.

Students put their coding skills to work in a classroom at Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County) as Patrice McCrary, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, looks on.
Students put their coding skills to work in a classroom at Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County) as Patrice McCrary, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, looks on. McCrary taught for 31 1/2 years in the Warren County schools before retiring in 2019, and she continues to volunteer at her old school.
Photo by Morgan Watson, Jan. 31, 2020

McCrary said she wants to spend as much time as possible in Kentucky’s schools during her time on the board looking for things they’re doing well that can be replicated.

“We have day after day, across the Commonwealth, pockets of greatness taking place in our classrooms that we don’t have the opportunity to share,” she said. “I want to be in as many schools as I can to witness that and pass that word on, to share that good news of what’s happening in classrooms.

“I’m looking for excellence, but I’m also looking for sustainability. I think we have our answers right here in the state; we just need to dig and find those best-case scenarios.”

She said another of her passions is early childhood education.

“I feel like if we can get that foundation in place for children and they can love school, then we have accomplished a major help for them to make it through the world of education,” she said. “Every child can and will learn with joy. That was my goal every single day that children showed up in the classroom, to have them be thrilled about that. I wanted it to be a place where they wanted to be and for them to be happy about what they were learning.”

McCrary said she found her voice as a teacher leader with the help of one of the many strong principals for whom she worked: Mary Evans, who spent 19 years as principal at Cumberland Trace Elementary.

“She believed that I had strong leadership skills so strongly that I found those leadership skills,” McCrary said. “She believed in helping to find our strengths. I credit her so much for pulling out that leadership in me. Once I started gaining that confidence I discovered the importance of having a teacher voice.”

Finding that voice led to involvement with education associations and to communicating with legislators. Now she is excited about advocating for teachers and students as a member of the Kentucky Board of Education.

“I have absolutely loved having a voice,” she said. “Speaking for the students of the Commonwealth and speaking for teachers has absolutely been a passion of mine, and what better place to use that voice than on the board of education?”

McCrary’s term expires April 14, 2024.

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