Born and raised in a military family, Janaye Wideman finds her new position as principal of Dyess Elementary fires her afterburners.
"Dyess really spoke to me as far as my background, being a military kid moving around, and my parents' connection to the diverse community," said Wideman, whose parents were both in the Air Force and live in Abilene.
While her father, James Batiste, was in for only a few years before she was born, her mother, Janet, made it her whole career.
"That experience alone just really interested me in the campus," she said. "And then, it's a brand new, beautiful building that has this modern design with modern concepts. It's such a nontraditional place. It's an incredible place to just to be in."
Add to that a staff with a good reputation and children and families with a "great presence in the community," she said, and the entire prospect really takes off.
Wideman, 37, was assistant principal at Stafford Elementary before accepting her role at Dyess. She has seven years of elementary school administrative experience, having served at three AISD campuses.
She was instructional coordinator at Jackson and Jane Long elementaries.
Wideman taught for eight years at Reagan Elementary and for one year in the Coleman Independent School District.
Destined for Dyess
Born in Tuscon, Arizona, where her mother, was stationed, Wideman's family eventually moved to Anchorage, Alaska.
Even then, they had a Dyess connection, Wideman said.
Her mother's twin sister had simultaneously entered into her own military career, and she was stationed here for a few years before going overseas.
"While she was here, we visited sometimes," Wideman recalled. "(My parents) really enjoyed the Abilene community, and we started visiting a church that was here that they really got connected to, just by being a visitor. The next place we went, they wanted it to be here."
Wideman herself spent some time at Clack Elementary in eighth grade.
"My mom got stationed in San Antonio, so she didn't ever get stationed at Dyess before she retired," Wideman said.
"We all moved here," Wideman said. "And we've been here ever since. That was in 2000."
Finding a path
Wideman jokes she doesn't have an "inspiring teacher story," or a family of educators that led to her career choice.
"I just kind of landed on it," she said.
Graduating from Cooper High School, Wideman went to Abilene Christian University. She started as a psychology major, admittedly not knowing which direction that might lead.
"As I got into it, I realized it's not really what I want to do," she said. "So, I literally checked the catalog trying to figure out what I want to do with my life."
She realized that she'd always enjoyed going to school and did well in it, whether her teachers were drab or dazzling, and thought she might give education a try.
In short order, she knew she'd found her calling.
"I realized this is what I was meant to do," Wideman said. "It's not really an inspiring story to get there. But once I got there, I knew."
One thing Wideman likes about education, she said, is that no matter whether a student sails through classes or struggles, what can truly help determine their success is the relationships they have with teachers, administration and "anybody that's working with them."
"I wasn't going in and thinking, 'I'm going to just make a difference because I'm going to take these kids under my wing and teach them all these things and love on them,' and all of that," Wideman said of her early experience in the role of a teacher. "That's not where my mindset was when I started."
But she quickly learned, especially working with a population similar to what she found at Reagan, Elementary where for many "there were a lot of struggles in their home life and in their academics."
"I realized quickly I can't just fish out the information, make this awesome lesson, and then just expect success," Wideman said. "... I've learned over the years the relationship with students is so important in providing for them."
The same is true for teachers, she said, when she moved into campus administrator roles, including "doing what other people did for me − investing in me, seeing my potential, helping me realize my potential,."
"That's been at the forefront of my mind, just how can I connect with the clientele, and how can I promote success for all and not just those that are that are wanting to be successful?" Wideman said.
Some students might not see the value in education, or maybe don't realize just how much they can actually do.
"For whatever reason, they have their own limitations that they've conceived, so it's exciting for me to break down that wall, that barrier," Wideman said. "You have potential, you have things inside of you that the world needs. ... Helping them to know themselves is really what makes the difference in how successful they're going to be."
Speaking on her experience as a Black educator, Wideman, who has a master's degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, said it does help for some students to know there are people "that look like you, that represent who you are."
"It's human nature," she said. "We want to belong, we want that sense of belonging."
Abilene is majority white and Hispanic, she said, mirrored in the composition of the school district. The district's largest crowd of students now are Hispanic.
But it's also a city that has a Black mayor, a Black police chief and others in key roles.
Wideman said there is an opportunity to be an example for students of all backgrounds, to help them learn "just how far they can go" as far as realizing their dreams.
"But I think sometimes people need that, that visual, that person, that someone to look up to," she siad. "(Just) to see, 'They're like me, and I can be like them,' as far as success goes."
In her new role, Wideman is looking forward to learning the ropes and moving ahead.
"It's not a place that just need someone to overhaul (it)," she said of Dyess' campus in general. "But every school has its own challenges, and every school has opportunities to grow."
Those come through observation, she said, something she's already engaged in quite a bit.
"I've spent a lot of time with staff getting to know them," she said, one-on-one if she can, also visiting with parents and others in the community.
Data is something schools thrive on, and Wideman has done her fair share of collecting it.
"That's what helps us figure out what we need to do," she said.
That has already resulted in some small changes, she said, such as schedule tweaks or changing a room around.
Addressing safety concerns is one area she doesn't mind rapid change, she said, a topic forefront of many people's minds because of recent dangerous situations in Texas schools.
"That's been the number one thing that we've been looking at as far as what needs to change," she said, though Dyess is "a very secure place" as a campus already.
"Everything else will be a process of learning," she said.
Married to Chance Wideman, rangemaster with the Abilene Police Department, Wideman said having a close-knit family life is important to her, as is engaging in church activities and spending time with her parents.
"(Recharging) is in just the downtime with family," she said. "My career, my job is very important to me, and I hold it in a high regard. But ultimately, you know, there's more to life than just that."
The Widemans have two daughters, Kinslee, who attends Madison Middle School and will be in seventh grade, and Kalli, who has attended Alcorta since kindergarten and will go to second grade at Dyess.
While she somewhat gleefully describes her family life as "boring," there is a bit of stiff competition, on occasion, that rears its head in an exciting game of Uno or a board game, she said.
That, too, is a family tradition.
"Growing up with my parents, our number one game was 'Taboo,'" Wideman said. "That's how my mom judges how good people are going to be. You come home with us, you play 'Taboo,' you're in if you can get through the round. That's just the standard we have."
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Janaye Wideman finds her way home as Dyess Elementary's principal