Dr. Justin Wakeland was aiming for 20 years as Frisco’s superintendent of schools, but when an irresistible offer came along a year before his target milestone, he realized it must be for a reason.
After 19 years of service, Wakeland retired to accept a part-time position as a field service representative for the Texas Association of School Boards, calling on 70 school districts throughout north Texas and working from home when not out in the field.
Well-wishers sent him off in style, hosting a retirement reception and a barbecue dinner and sending an avalanche of letters and cards which his secretary, Reba Carroll, included in three bulging scrapbooks documenting Wakeland’s Frisco career. He also received Senate resolutions from Jane Nelson and Florence Shapiro recognizing his total of 36 years in education.
When Wakeland moved to Frisco from his position as a principal in Plano nearly two decades ago, he and his wife, Jacquline, were eager to raise their two children in a smaller town.” The population of Frisco was less than 5,000,” he recalls. We had to travel to Plano for groceries, but living here met our needs, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Wakeland’s children, Mark and Sherri, both graduated from Frisco High School, and Sherri later returned to the community to teach fourth grade.
Times have changed dramatically in Frisco since the Wakelands’ arrival in 1978. That year, Wakeland estimates, the school district had about 32 teachers, compared to the current 268. The graduating class of ‘78 comprised only some 40 students, while this year’s was 115 strong. And the district’s student population has grown from about 825 to more than 3,100 during Wakeland’ s tenure. He has also seen three new elementary schools and a new high school added to Frisco’s growing campus collection, plus numerous renovations and expansions to accommodate the growth.”
We’ve gone from being a rural to a ‘mid-urban,’ or suburban school district,” he notes.” We moved up from 2A to 3A, and now we’re getting close to being 4A. We’re the fastest-growing school district per capita in the state of Texas.”
The winds of change have blown in more than additional students, teachers and facilities, though. Wakeland says one of the most profound changes he has witnessed is the concept of computers in classrooms and labs at every grade level.” Information is changing so rapidly, you have to teach kids how to access it rather than memorize it,” he says.
And what about the kids themselves? Have they changed as much as the rest of the world has? “People ask me all the time, ‘Aren’t those kids just terrible and disrespectful?’” Wakeland says. “But in fact, it’s just like it was even back in the ’50s – less than 5 percent of them exhibit poor behavior, and 95 percent are just great. And they’re much smarter than when I was in school, thanks to the information that they have access to.”
Wakeland leaves behind a legacy of quality, efficiency and progress, and he’s more than a little proud of the district he has led for 19 years. I’m leaving really good teachers, administration and support personnel,” he begins. “We’ve been able to handle the growth and keep up with technology at an efficient cost per student. We passed the last two school bond elections 10 to 1, which is almost unheard of. The Texas Education Agency named Curtsinger Elementary an exemplary school and Staley Middle School a recognized school. And several of our sports teams have done very well and made it to state playoffs.”
An admirable list of personal achievements and honors adds to Wakeland’s impressive professional history. He is a recipient of the University of North Texas Department of Educational Administration’s Outstanding Alumni Award and was recognized by Texas School Business Magazine as a leader in Texas education. He has served as president of the Texas Association of Community Schools and last year was a nominee for Regional Superintendent of the Year.
The energetic former teacher, coach, principal and superintendent may be even busier during retirement than he has been throughout his accomplished career. He hopes to spend more time enjoying golf and fishing. And in addition to his job with TASB, he has part-time assignments with a construction management company and a school bond company, and he says he had to turn down another two or three jobs. I’m going to be working eight days a week if I’m not careful,” Wakeland says,” but I’m only 57, so I’m too young to retire completely.”
“It was helpful that Dr. Wakeland did such a good job, because he blazed a path for me,” says Dr. Rick Reedy, Frisco’s newly named superintendent of schools. “Thanks to his leadership, there wasn’t a movement for change; otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten the position.”
It’s a position for which Reedy and many others knew he was uniquely qualified, after having spent 21 years in Frisco schools, the past five as assistant superintendent. He also had served as teacher, assistant principal and principal. He had established positive working relationships with other key district personnel, a real advantage to achieving continuity and stability in times of tremendous growth and change. “Plus, I already love this place, and a newcomer would have to learn to love it,” he says.” It’s like having a baby, and I was here during its infancy. The district is an important part of my life, and its people are part of my extended family.”
Last year, Reedy was invited to apply for the Southlake-Carroll Independent School District superintendent and was a finalist for the job. “I felt like I was coming to an age where, if I was going to be a superintendent, it was time,” he says. “But it’s a blessing that I wasn’t chosen, because my heart was here. It’s also a blessing to be able to stay in one place and move up. My family turned down every job offer throughout the years so we could stay in Frisco.”
Reedy’s three sons have all attended Frisco schools from kindergarten up. Matt was the valedictorian of the Class of ‘92. Blake graduated last year, and Ross is a junior at Frisco High School. Judith, his wife of 27 years, whom Reedy calls “a positive influence in my life,” is working on her master’s degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and has been appointed associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Plano.
Reedy holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from East Texas State University, with a resume that includes pages of professional, church and community activities.
Knowing as many people as possible, including students, in this rapidly growing community is a top priority for Reedy as he takes the helm. “I need to be visible on campus. It’s important that people know me by name. If somebody needs me, I’m available – they can reach me. People who move here want to have a connection and they want to know their leaders.”
Frisco’s recent phenomenal growth and even more incredible growth projections don’t intimidate Reedy, who says the school district has a vision for how it can grow and prosper. I’m excited about being able to retain small-town values in a larger setting. I don’t think we have to succumb to much of the negative that sometimes comes out of rapid growth. By working with the city, developers and parent groups, I really think you can keep the community unified.
We have done a good job of acclimating so many people to Frisco customs and traditions,” he adds. “I see people moving in who share our small-town values. They’re not coming in with the intention of changing things but of becoming part of the fold. That doesn’t always happen in growing communities.”
Bright people, he notes, are adaptable to growth situations, and he believes Frisco is well-equipped to not only meet the challenge but thrive while doing so.
Reedy is especially proud of the school district’s ability to keep pace with this increasingly sophisticated and demanding world, as demonstrated by an improvement in programs at both the elementary and secondary levels, the addition of honors and advanced-placement courses, improvement in standardized test scores and growth in extracurricular programs.
The job of schools and educators, he maintains, is to “mold, love and nurture our students, and if they’re a credit to the human race when we get done, then we’ve done our job. Our goal is to make a difference in the lives of our children.”
Creating a school system that is world-class – “by any standard” – is Reedy’s mission. “My adrenaline is flowing,” he says with a reassuring combination of calm confidence and eager anticipation.
Lori Fairchild is a Collin County-based editor and writer, and former editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.
As impressive and contemporary as Frisco’s newer school facilities are, this is a community that values traditions as well as progress. Maybe that’s why what is now referred to as “the Old Middle School” is not only still standing, but is also being well-preserved and put to good use. There are even plans for a functional future for the aging piece of mission-style architecture.
“It has a very humanistic scale to it, and the use of materials is appropriate,” notes Lawrence Wood, an architect with the local firm of Phelps/Wood. “It has a good scale relationship for the parts, and a lot of articulated detailing that is impossible to obtain today – much less find a craftsman to do that type work.”
Located at 6928 Maple, the school was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration (later to be known as the Work Projects Administration), a government agency created to put unemployed people to work on public projects during the Great Depression.
Reba Carroll is a lifelong Frisco resident who has fond memories of the entire history of this unique building.
The school was originally built to house grades 1 through 11 – there was no 12th grade until 1940. Carroll was one of the 28 graduates of the Class of ’49. Through the years, as the student population grew, the school housed fewer and fewer grades, finally leaving only grades 6-8. Last year when the new high school opened at 6401 Parkwood, the middle school moved into the old – but newly renovated – high school facility at No. 1 Coon Lane.
As the administration building next door underwent renovations this past year, the offices were moved temporarily into the Old Middle School. As secretary to the superintendent, Reba (pictured right) has worked, until recently, in the same room where she attended study hall as a young girl. They recently were moved back into their newly renovated quarters, and the Old Middle School is being readied for another era. In its next life, the building maybe used as a sixth-grade center; what once was large enough for an entire schood district can now hold only a single grade.