Matthew Ray wants to bring peace to OPS


Sophie Youngs for the Register

The man tasked with leading Omaha Public Schools over the upcoming school year can’t go very far in one its school buildings without running into someone from his past. On the windswept Tuesday afternoon when we met in the library of Central High School, he made it about 20 feet.  

Math teacher Debbie Galusha first met Matthew Ray in the late ‘90s when he was a fresh-faced elementary teacher just out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s College of Education. He was one of six young teachers she hired for City Sprouts, a summer science education program for disadvantaged students she led at the time. “He had a lot of joy and excitement about teaching,” recalled Galusha. “He was very easygoing but with a great sense of responsibility.”  

City Sprouts was one of Ray’s first teaching experiences, but the two had not spoken in years before he ran into her tutoring students on his way to speak with me. “Who would have ever guessed this was going to happen?” asked a beaming Galusha. “Not me!” exclaimed Ray.

Ray began at UNO studying criminal justice with hopes of becoming a park ranger, but his career aspirations changed dramatically after he sparked an interest in elementary education. “It was my first experience doing observations as an undergraduate,” explained Ray. “Seeing that click when students get new information or a concept comes into play, seeing that recognition, that was where my passion was.”  

Those undergraduate observations at Columbian Elementary, where Ray’s three children would later attend, spelled the beginning of a 26-year career in OPS. He started as a student teacher at Ashland Park Robbins Elementary, then spent a semester as a substitute teacher across the district, before returning to Ashland Park Robbins to teach fifth grade for four years. 

He left the classroom to become a student personnel assistant at the TAC building, worked on the Infinite Campus implementation, served as a student due process hearing officer, and later became the district’s chief of staff, secretary to the OPS Board of Education, and then briefly became deputy superintendent prior to his appointment as interim superintendent for the 2023-2024 school year.  

When meeting Ray, the personal qualities that allowed him to rise through the ranks of the district are evident. He’s good-humored and sincere, possessing the kind of industrious character you would want in your group for a class project. But he can also be conspicuously reserved, sheepishly telling the Register’s photographer how he finds it difficult to smile on command for photos.  

Ray’s calm demeanor is at odds with a district that has often felt consumed by chaos as it weathers the lasting effects of the pandemic, staffing shortages, rising student poverty and declining test scores. Over his upcoming year as OPS’ interim superintendent, Ray hopes to bring his sense of peace to the school system he will lead. 

Despite everything else that’s happening, what’s most important is the students in the classroom and their experience in the Omaha Public Schools.


“I think of Shalom,” Ray said of his leadership philosophy. “This idea that how we lead brings peace to an organization. How we interact with each other, how we problem-solve, brings peace. Despite everything else that’s happening, what’s most important is the students in the classroom and their experience in the Omaha Public Schools.”  

Since the leadership transition from Dr. Cheryl Logan officially began on April 1, daily life for Ray has become a whirlwind of meetings with administrators, citizens and stakeholders in preparation for him taking the district’s reigns. “I don’t sleep as well as I once did,” Ray said. “So many things are going through your mind and you’re responsible for all of it.”  

Our conversation in the sunlit library office was sandwiched between a debriefing on the consent agenda for the next school board meeting and his first official meeting with the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers’ union, as interim superintendent.  

Ray’s greatest trial as interim will be handling OPS’ ongoing teacher shortage, a crisis he acknowledged is likely to worsen with another wave of resignations expected at the end of the school year. “If I had the answer [to the teacher shortage] I could probably sell it to every school district,” Ray said. “What’s important for the organization to understand is that we’re all recruiters. It’s not just [Human Resources] that recruits employees. As a former sub, I know how important how you treat substitute teachers is. It’s all about that connection and understanding that everybody, from the students we serve to the staff, we’re all recruiters for the Omaha Public Schools.”

It’s important to me in this transition year that we include staff in district initiatives at the beginning, rather than in the middle or at the end.


Ray said that he hopes to improve relations between teachers and district administration during his tenure. “It’s important to me in this transition year that we include staff in district initiatives at the beginning, rather than in the middle or at the end. Staff has to be involved in the creation rather than responding to something that’s already been created.” 

Building upon the district’s relationship with the OPS teachers union is instrumental to Ray’s hopes of increasing teacher retention. “OEA’s success is our success,” Ray said. “The district’s success is OEA’s success, which is students’ success. We’re all connected in that common mission.”  

In many ways, Ray’s year as interim will exist in the shadow of Logan’s leadership of OPS. The district’s planning for the 2023-2024 school year is nearly complete, said Ray, with the formation of those initiatives being overseen by Logan prior to her departure. With the school year already plotted out, much of Ray’s tenure will be dedicated to implementing unfinished initiatives launched by Logan. In fact, according to Ray, the success of his tenure as interim superintendent could very well be measured by how little you notice it. “The goal is not to see a difference,” Ray said. “That everything’s maintained, we’re moving forwards as planned, and we’re keeping the commitments we have.”

As we get more information [about career academies and pathways] and learn more about things that are working or not working, we’ll have to absolutely adjust.


While Ray reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of Career Academies and Pathways, he said that changes to the program are inevitable as more data on its effect on student achievement is collected. “There should be some time to reflect on what’s happened and what’s not happened,” Ray said. “Dr. Logan laid out a plan, it’s not just her plan, it’s the district’s plan, it will move on without her; it will move on with my support. As we get more information and learn more about things that are working or not working, we’ll have to absolutely adjust.” 

In an unusual move, the OPS school board is allowing Ray to apply for the permanent superintendent position, opening up the possibility for him to lead the district for longer than just one school year. But, for the time being, Ray remains tight-lipped about whether he plans to apply. “My focus right now is this transition with Dr. Logan and making sure that the district is ready for the start of the next school year,” he said. “When the Board posts the superintendent position, it will be a discussion with my family to decide if it’s something I want to do.” 

If there is one attribute that makes Ray uniquely suited to the superintendency, it is the depth and breadth of his experiences in OPS, the kind of personal history that makes it impossible to walk into a school building without having spirited reunions with old mentors.  

A school district as large and complex as OPS can be experienced in a manifold of different ways by students, parents, teachers and administrators. At various times in his life, Ray has occupied every one of those positions. As he prepares for the superintendency of Nebraska’s largest school district, he said that his experience as the father of three OPS students, all of whom graduated from Central, continues to shape his outlook.  

“To experience the school district as a parent is so valuable,” Ray said. “You can relate to students and their parents and how they experience the school district. I have experienced the Omaha Public Schools from all angles, and it gives me a different insight into everything.”