Features

Lisa Ray – Garland Independent School District 

Innovating for educational excellence 

The general counsel of a school district faces challenges that extend beyond simple matters in the classroom, in the school board room and on campus. There are contracts with teachers and staff, agreements with vendors and ensuring the district has a plan to make the school experience safe for faculty and staff.  

Lisa Ray - General Counsel

Lisa Ray / General Counsel / Garland Independent School District

As the general counsel for Garland Independent School District in the vibrant tri-city community of Rowlett, Sachse and Garland, Texas, Lisa Ray ensures the district delivers exceptional education to a diverse student body of 55,000 learners across an extensive network of 72 schools.  

In her crucial role, Ray provides legal guidance, navigating complex matters while pioneering transformative initiatives that propel GISD toward educational distinction. 

“Education extends far beyond the lessons taught in classrooms; it’s about the doors we open, the pathways we pave, and the dreams we ignite. Every opportunity we provide, every challenge we overcome, and every student we empower contributes to building brighter futures and shaping the world of tomorrow,” Ray says. 

Building for the future 

With a recent $1.3 billion bond passed by the GISD community, Ray and her team are focused on implementing its goals, primarily constructing new schools. The initiative aims to address the issue of aging facilities by providing students with modern learning environments.  

Lisa Ray - General Counsel

“By consolidating schools and building new ones, GISD ensures better learning environments for students and improved teaching conditions for educators,” Ray explains.  

Ray’s dedication to education extends beyond infrastructure improvements. She has played a vital role in the College for All program, a partnership with Dallas Community College that offers high school students the opportunity to earn a free associate degree while completing their high school education. This initiative has proven instrumental in improving graduation rates, reducing learning loss, and providing a livable wage, especially for economically disadvantaged students. 

In the face of legal challenges, Ray remains vigilant. While legislative battles in Austin and other districts address various issues, GISD’s legal matters include Title IX complaints, special education due process hearings, and student and staff safety.  

“We navigate these challenges while upholding individuals’ rights and maintaining a safe learning environment,” she says.  

As technology evolves, GISD remains proactive in addressing its use in education. While still learning about AI technologies and their implications for ethics, equity, and data safety, Ray emphasizes responsible use. She highlights the importance of considering the impact of AI on students, teachers, and schools while staying informed about policy developments at the state level. 

For the rest of 2024 and beyond, GISD has exciting projects on the horizon. With bond funds financing improvements such as new turf fields and multi-purpose activity centers, the district continues to invest in enhancing student experiences. Additionally, GISD’s Board of Trustees was a finalist for Outstanding School Board by the H-E-B Excellence in Education, showcasing their dedication to excellence. 

Guiding legal strategy for school improvement 

Ray oversees a dedicated team, including an assistant general counsel and a paralegal. She recently established a new department focused on employee relations, reflecting her commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment. Despite recruitment and retention challenges, Ray’s leadership philosophy emphasizes the importance of humility, hunger for growth, and interpersonal intelligence in attracting and retaining top talent. 

Lisa Ray - General Counsel

One of Ray’s most formidable roles is navigating the complexity of politics within the education sector.  

“Balancing competing agendas and guiding clients toward sound legal decisions amidst political pressures requires finesse and strategic acumen,” Ray says. “We approach these challenges with resilience and a commitment to upholding legal integrity and safeguarding the district’s best interests.” 

For Ray, the most rewarding aspect of her role lies in the diverse legal issues she encounters within the educational landscape. From real estate transactions to student discipline matters and special education rights, Ray finds fulfillment in addressing multifaceted challenges and advocating for the well-being of students. Her deep-rooted passion for education is evident in her active engagement with students, celebrating their achievements, and fostering meaningful connections within the community. 

Passion meets purpose 

Ray’s journey is a testament to her passion for the law, diverse background and commitment to serving the community. Ray laid the foundation for her legal career with a degree in political science and psychology from the University of Houston—she followed by earning a JD from South Texas College of Law Houston. 

Lisa Ray - General Counsel

Early in her career, Ray gained valuable experience as an associate at Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons and later as staff counsel for State Farm. However, her transition to education law truly ignited her passion. Despite initially training as an employment lawyer and practicing insurance defense, Ray was drawn to school law’s unique challenges and opportunities. 

Ray’s path led her to serve as an assistant general counsel for the Dallas Independent School District for over six years, where she gained experience in areas such as personnel hearings, Title IX, special education, and contracts. This role provided her with comprehensive training and laid the groundwork for her eventual position at GISD. 

Joining GISD in June 2018, Ray embraced her role with enthusiasm and dedication. She attributes her success to the support of a visionary board of trustees and Superintendent Ricardo Lopez, who recognized her potential and took a chance on her. Ray is deeply passionate about serving the district and supporting its mission to provide quality education to every student. 

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Ray’s personal background adds depth to her story. Born in Toronto, Canada, to Indian immigrant parents, Ray defied expectations by pursuing a career in law instead of medicine. Her commitment to education and community service is evident through her involvement with the Alumni Board of Directors of South Texas College of Law Houston and the International Dyslexia Association – Dallas Branch and her dedication to supporting children with learning differences. 

“I consider myself the luckiest lawyer in town. I get to work in an environment that promotes student growth and success,” Ray says. “Successful students pave the way for a bright future for everyone.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2024 Edition here.

Published on: May 10, 2024

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