Every school day is a Game Day for Janaye Wideman, which means that the first day of school last month must have been like the Super Bowl for the first-year principal at Dyess Elementary School.
Named in early May as the successor for Chad Drake, who moved to Mann Middle School as its principal, Wideman spent the summer getting to know her teachers and staff, the Dyess community, and the facility itself. And when Wednesday, Aug. 17, finally arrived, Wideman was ready.
“I was so excited the night before,” said Wideman, who spent the previous two years as the assistant principal of Stafford Elementary. “I arrived on campus super early to get started on what we’re here for, and that’s the kids. It was great to have the teachers on campus for the few days before school started because that gave me a better chance to get to know them and start working together. It was exciting to be out on the sidewalk on the first day to say hello to students and families.
“Then we got into the day and then the first few days and it was great to see these plans we’ve been making the last few months come to fruition,” Wideman said. “It was exciting to see everything in action and not just on paper or in theory. Every day is Game Day for me, so that first day was even more exciting. I’m just happy to be here at Dyess and part of this great community.”
Wideman is in her 16th year with the Abilene ISD and 17th year in education overall (she spent one year in the Coleman ISD). She graduated from Cooper High School and then Abilene Christian University before earning her master’s degree from the University of Texas-Arlington.
Wideman’s appointment as the principal at Dyess was perhaps somewhat prophetic since she comes from a military family. Both of her parents were in the U.S. Air Force, and while her father didn’t make it a career, her mother did. Both live in Abilene after serving at Dyess AFB. They also lived in Alaska, Arizona (where Wideman was born), and San Antonio during their careers.
Her familiarity with the military lifestyle and connection to what those families go through with multiple moves gives Wideman a deeper insight into the Dyess community.
“The traditions and what we have here at Dyess are very important to me,” she said. “We’ve got students who have parents, grandparents, siblings, or other family members serving our country and have made a commitment to that. The one thing I don’t want them worrying about is their child’s education. I don’t want them wondering if they’re getting a good education while they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing for our country.
“I want those families who are assigned to Dyess or live in our neighborhood to know that this is a great school, and this is a place where they want to send their children,” Wideman said. “Dyess has a great reputation, and it’s up to me and our staff to sustain that and make it even better.”
Part of the Dyess reputation is built upon a staff that doesn’t see a lot of turnover and has embraced the military lifestyle that’s so prevalent on the campus.
“We’ve got a lot of people on this campus who have deep ties, a connection and loyalty to Dyess,” Wideman said. “I’m happy to join that and help and sustain the traditions this campus has enjoyed over the years. The relationship between this campus and the base is in a really good place, and I just want to do whatever I can to make it even better.”
When Wideman began her career as a teacher, she said she never had any aspirations to become a principal. But from 2015-2019 she served as the Instructional Coordinator (IC) at both Long Elementary School and Alcorta Elementary School, giving her a taste of campus administrative life. She then served as the assistant principal at Alcorta before going to Stafford Elementary School, which has been transformed into the district’s model teaching campus.
Each of those experiences has prepared her to move into the principal role at Dyess.
“I love teaching, and thought I wanted to be a teacher forever,” she said. “But when I had the opportunity for leadership roles at Reagan, I realized I wanted more of those chances. I didn’t leave teaching because I was unhappy doing that; these opportunities simply came up and I took them. I realized how much I liked helping teachers on a global scale. It’s fulfilling to me to be able to impact multiple classrooms at once.
“I had kind of made up my mind last year that I wasn’t going to apply for any principal jobs that might come open,” Wideman said. “But I was talking to (Associate Superintendent for Leadership and Student Services) Dr. Gustavo Villanueva last spring about my plans and I decided to apply for one of the three elementary principal jobs (Austin, Dyess, and Thomas) that were going to be open. It just felt like the right time.”
When Wideman was selected to lead Dyess, Clay Johnson was picked to follow Alison Camp at Austin, and Shannon Marshall was the choice to replace the retiring Cindy Hay at Thomas. Wideman knows she’s not taking over a campus where a lot of change is necessary, but she still has priorities for the campus that she intends to implement.
“One thing that’s apparent to me is that connection in our building can be a little bit difficult,” she said. “The building is beautiful, and we all love it. But every area is self-sufficient, and every teacher and student has their needs met in their grade-level pod. I believe connecting regularly is going to be a key to what we do and how we function with one another.
“And we have to continue to make sure we have that great connection between teachers and families,” Wideman said, “and navigating what instruction looks like in 2022 and 2023. We have so many cool things in this building – the STEM areas, moveable walls, and the Lite Brite wall – and we have to figure out how we utilize the space and structure to make instruction more relevant to students.”
None of that, however, has fazed Wideman, who is taking over one of the flagship campuses in the district.
“It’s been a huge blessing to be offered this position,” she said, “and to be entrusted to step into onto this beautiful campus with all of these great people who have been here. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being the principal at Dyess, and it’s great to be trusted with this campus.”