Blake Stiles, who led the Athens Independent School District for eight years, overseeing major change and expansion died on Wednesday. He was 45.
The superintendent had taken medical leave in April and undergone a heart procedure. He had been expected to return to week shortly, but passed away on Wednesday at UT Health hospital in Athens.
Stiles was hired as superintendent in December 2012, after a year as assistant. Within a couple of years he had made an impression by advocating scholastic advancement and an upgrade of the buildings and equipment.
“There can be no standing still,” said Mr. Stiles. “If we don’t continually push for improvement, then we’re losing ground. So we keep pushing.”
A major step was winning voter approval of the 2015 $59.9 million bond election. The bond funded new construction and major renovation in several areas of the district.
School Board president Robert Risko said Stiles' performance on the job had exceeded expectations.
"He's also a man of high integrity," Risko said.
Another major change for the district was the switch to a four day school work. The three-year pilot program was approved by the school board in December 2018 and took effect with the beginning of classes in August 2019.
Stiles said in a statement the change would allow the district to "designate more time to staff development and preparedness for educating our students."
Stiles began school as a student in Quinton, in east central Oklahoma. His father was a firefighter, while his mother was a secretary for the school. Stiles made up his mind early to go into the education field.
He earned his bachelor of science degree in education from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, then traveled to the University of Houston where he attained a master of education and supervision degree.
Stiles' first job in education was in 1998 in Honey Grove, Texas.
“I knew every kid in school and liked it that way,” he said.
Later, he served as principal of Howe High School for six years. During that stay, the Howe High School campus earned a Texas Education Agency exemplary rating in the 2009-2010 school year.
When Robert Steeber became AISD superintendent in 2011, he called Stiles and asked him to be his assistant. After a year, Steeber left for a job in the Fort Worth area. The school board was already pleased enough with Stiles performance, he was selected as the new leader.
Stiles' wife, Claudia is also involved in education, serving as principal at South Athens Elementary School. Their daughter Taylor Stiles is this year's Athens High School valedictorian. Their son Jaxson is in junior high.
In a 2014 Athens Review story Stiles gave his philosophy for leading the district.
“My belief is that the best thing I can do to help this district is to hire good people and put good people in the right places,” he said. “Find the stars and let them shine.”