It's a warm day in late May. The school year is winding down, as is Ray Dane's tenure as superintendent of the Joshua ISD.

His desk is clean. He was always organized, but always had a long to-do list that filled his desk with paperwork. Dane acknowledges he's delegating a lot of his work to staff and especially to Fran Marek, who will take on Dane's job in mid-June.

Dane announced in February that he was stepping down to care for his mother. The retirement will give him more time to do just that, as well as to spend more time with his wife, the opportunity to read the many books he's collected over the years, to spend time at his place on Lake Texoma, to volunteer and to play the piano.
Joshua ISD Superintendent Ray Dane, right, will retire in June. The district will be led by Fran Marek, left, who has risen in the JISD from classroom
Joshua ISD Superintendent Ray Dane, right, will retire in June. The district will be led by Fran Marek, left, who has risen in the JISD from classroom educator, through administration to the superintendent's office. (Burleson Star/BRIAN PORTER)


His wife, for one, is relieved at his pending departure, he noted.

"It's been difficult to get away. Even when I was away, I really wasn't away because I needed to be reached," he said.

But by his own admission, Dane's departure is bittersweet. There are no plans in his future to become gainfully employed once again.

"If I wanted to work, I wouldn't leave Joshua," he said. "This is the best place to be; the staff is great, the students are great, the parents are great."

Dane spent more than a decade in his leadership role; when he stepped into it from his position as assistant superintendent, his goal was to boost student performance.

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"To be the place that could become a model of educational excellence," he said, with a smile, adding that the now-well-known vision statement came about at a staff retreat about three years ago. To reach that goal, he spearheaded curriculum changes to improve grades and test scores. He also made changes to the campuses' culture.

"We needed to see winning as a habit," he said. "It was a process to get to that point; it was cumulative change."

It was also a process that took time, but on the academic side, it's succeeded. Many of Joshua's campuses have repeatedly reached exemplary status from the Texas Education Association. And Joshua students are on a regular tear, coming away from UIL academic and fine arts competitions with a multitude of kudos and awards.

Dane was also proud of the JISD Education Foundation, an organization developed to provide supplemental funds for educational purposes and scientific programs.

But it hasn't been all roses during Dane's tenure – Jon Carmichael's suicide in 2011 led to changes in how student bullying was perceived and dealt with.

Then there is athletics.

"We've had the misfortune of being in the toughest UIL district in the state," Dane said.

But he goes on to say that it's not just tough competition, but rather, fostering a positive attitude that's important. Athletics still isn't where it needs to be, he said, but it's getting better. Much like improving student performance, improving athletic performance is a process that continues to be ongoing.

"I know we'll succeed in that area," he said. 

Still, Dane said he's proud of the accomplishments of the district as a whole – in the area of finances, the organization has focused on fiscal responsibility. And when it comes to the children, "we couldn't have a better group of kids," Dane said. "Whenever we go anywhere; there's a field trip or sporting event, someone calls back with a compliment. The kids are polite; they're well-dressed, they're well behaved."

As such, Dane credits the positive aspects of his tenure to "the kids, the supportive parents and the staff."

Down the hall from Dane, Fran Marek's desk is not clean. In direct contrast to the quiet in Dane's office, Marek's phone is ringing off the hook – and her desk is piled with papers. But she, like Dane, credits the students, staff and community for the JISD's current academic success, and counts on those three stakeholder groups to push the district down the road to the future.

And it's going to be a busy one. Marek, currently serving as deputy superintendent, is taking over as superintendent during a time of change. For one thing, the Texas Education Agency's standardized testing format is moving from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), which has been in place since 2003, to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR). By the TEA's own admission on its website, "the new tests will be significantly more rigorous than previous tests..."

Meanwhile, restructuring is going on within the district; teachers are moving around, as is staff. Then there is the fact that Joshua (the community) is poised for growth, which will have a definite impact on Joshua (the school district).

But Marek isn't phased by any of it; she's an old hand at change. When she came to work 22 years ago for the Joshua ISD as a teacher, the district boasted a grand total of four campuses – the high school, middle school and two elementary campuses. These days, there are nine campuses (including New Horizons High School and Joshua Ninth Grade Campus and three more elementary schools).
With more community growth in the works, Marek is prepared.

"We're monitoring what's going on out there," she said. "What businesses are coming to town, where home sites are being built. We don't want to let this take us by surprise."

She acknowledged that on the standardized testing front, the district is in the analysis phase of the first STARR tests taken within the past few weeks. Based on that assessment, changes will be made to the curriculum to ensure students continue to excel both in the classroom and in the area of standardized testing.

On the athletic front, consolidation of the boys' and girls' program taking center stage; rather than operating the programs separately as has happened in the past.

"It's a one-system focus," Marek said, "we'll prosper from that."

Even with pending changes, Marek is confident of success and for many of the same reasons that Dane counted his years with JISD as successful.

"We're blessed to be in this district," she said. "We have a supportive school board, great teachers and kids, supportive parents and a great community."