Daniel Ray has worn many hats during his time at Chickamauga's Oakwood Christian Academy, so it only makes sense that the next hat be some sort of crown.
Ray was recently notified that he was named by the National Association of Private and Parochial Schools (NAPPS) as the organization's National Administrator of the Year.
Ray was one of 200 nominees from 40 states and three countries. He was notified earlier last month that he was in the top three before getting word of the organization's final decision on July 21.
"You should be very proud that you have a leader such as Dr. Daniel Ray in your area and leading Oakwood Christian Academy," said NAPPS Awards Committee Chairman Keith Smith in the email. "Our country is in need of good leaders, and you have a great one that most people don’t know about."
Ray admitted he was caught off guard by the announcement.
"Their organization works with more than 300 schools, and once I found out this was real, I was like, 'wow, this is really cool," he said. "It was totally unexpected and very much of an honor. When you do what I do, you really don't expect to receive any recognition, and we don't do what we do to receive recognition. Across the board, administrators are dealing with and taking care of things that nobody else wants to deal with, so it was nice to have that as an honor once I found out.
"I sit here and kind of reflect on it more and more, it's more of an honor than anything else to be recognized and that other people recognize the work that is taking place. Not just those that are within our own school, but folks outside of our school system."
According to the requirements, nominees for the award must have been nominated by another school leader, whether from a public school or a private school. Ray explained that while they did not reveal who nominated him, he was informed that he had been nominated by both a public school leader and a private school leader.
"It was pretty neat to hear that," he added.
Ray, however, was quick to give credit to others.
"Obviously, whenever you win or whenever you get some type of recognition, you have the support of your family and the support of your staff and employees who are working to make things better," he said. "(The award) also says that we're doing things the way they supposed be done. We're getting things done the correct way and people are seeing that.
"That's just kind of a reflection, not necessarily on what we do, but it's just us trying to follow Christ in all that we do and uniting a passion for Christ through excellence. Whether that happens to be on the athletic field or in fine arts or in academics, all of that kind of goes together."
Ray taught social studies at Ridgeland High School for 10 years. He also served as the social studies department head and coached basketball, soccer and golf there before being hired by OCA 11 years ago. He was brought on board to create OCA's high school program, help design the middle and high school building and serve as the academy's first high school principal.
"I did that for the first six years and then the last five years I've been the headmaster here," he explained. "Along the way, I've been the athletic director here and coached every sport, except volleyball, at all different levels, coming in to help when I was needed."
Ray explained that the job has its challenging moments, especially this past March when the COVID-19 outbreak interrupted and eventually ended in-person instruction at the school.
"We were able to put together a good plan for our students to continue to go through learning, all the way from pre-K through 12th grade," he added. "We've been very fortunate. We still have a 100% college acceptance rate and a 100% graduation rate for those that are here, even during the time we were gone because of COVID-19.
"We're continuing to grow and it's exciting. Most of that comes from parents sharing with other parents and just getting name recognition out there."
Ray is also the first administrator from a Georgia school to win the NAPPS award and the first administrator from a school in the southeastern United States to win. He'll also be the final award winner as, after 30 years, the NAPPS was forced to shutdown completely for financial reasons back in May due to COVID-19.
"I hated to hear that this particular organization is having to reallocate their resources and is going out of business," he added. "But to be the last recipient of this award after the last 30 years, it's special to be able to get that.
"What it means is that we're doing things right and it means that we need to continue to do things right. There are days that I go home and I'm stressed and worried about this and that, so this is just kind of confirmation that were doing it right. It comes at a good time, I can tell you that.
"Overall, this award was nice to receive, but it shows that it's not just one person that's doing things right. It's a group of folks are doing things right and I'm very appreciative of that."
At the urging of Oakwood Baptist Church members, two kindergarten classes began in the fall of 1992. An elementary program began with first grade in August of 1999 a year after the school changed its named to Oakwood Christian Academy.
Today OCA has approximately 300 students enrolled at the school in pre-K through 12th grade. It is full accredited through the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS) and the Georgia Association Of Christian Schools (GACS).
GACS schools are members of the Georgia Private School Accrediting Council (GAPSAC), which is recognized by the Georgia Department of Education and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.