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Making the transition

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

It’s a Monday morning and Denton school district Superintendent Ray Braswell is sitting down with his cabinet, members of several district departments, to discuss items on future school board meeting agendas and other pertinent information.

“This is how we try to get the big picture,” Braswell said of the weekly meetings. “The different divisions [discuss] what the other divisions are doing.”

One by one, he goes down the table calling on representatives from the academic programs, technology, human resources, operations, social work and counseling departments for an update on what’s going on in their division.

Braswell is quiet and serious. Swaying his hand across his cheek, he listens intently to department representatives, stopping at times to ask questions.

Someone cracks a joke, and Braswell along with others in the room erupt in laughter.

As the meeting continues, the group discusses upcoming workshop items and reports for the next several board meetings.

About an hour later the meeting is over. Braswell is off to his next task for the day, preparing for staff evaluations.

His job in many ways is like the day-to-day duties of a principal, he said.

The day can start off with five things on the to-do list that may never be touched by the day’s end, Braswell said.

“The job is dynamic in the way that changes happen quickly and often,” he said. “You have to be flexible and ready to change your plans at a moment’s notice.”

These days, Braswell’s days are filled with transition tasks, discussing and planning for the 2012-13 year, several things he will not see come to fruition as head of the Denton school district.

Braswell officially steps down as superintendent June 29. A reception to honor his years of service is slated for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Denton Country Club, 1213 Country Club, 1213 Country Club Drive.

As his final day nears, Braswell packs up about a handful of boxes and gets documents in order for his successor, current Deputy Superintendent Jamie Wilson.

“When you’ve been in an office 14 years and with a district 33, you accumulate a lot of things,” Braswell said.

In 1979, at age 25, he joined the school district staff as head athletic trainer at Denton High School. Throughout the years he’s moved up the ranks, from a science teacher and an associate and assistant principal at the high school level to working several director and executive director positions and then as associate superintendent in central administration before being named interim superintendent in 1998 and then superintendent in 1999.

He said he’s experienced a lot and has had “fond memories all along the way.”

“It’s been a good ride,” Braswell said. “It’s always been challenging and energizing.”

He said he’s flooded with several emotions about his departure.

“I think the emotional part is when I find myself doing things for the last time,” Braswell said.

He choked up, he said, at the final graduation ceremony for Denton high school students June 1, and sometimes even catches himself when he speaks with district staff about programs and other topics being planned months from now.

Oftentimes, he said, he finds himself reflecting, mostly on the things he and his team were able to accomplish as a district — “a lot of the good things and tough things.” Braswell said he is going to miss the people he’s built relationships with over time, and the students and staff. He said he’s also going to miss campus events — going to watch students perform — and making presentations and representing the district at conferences.

“As time goes on, I know this is the right decision for me,” Braswell said. “Walking out of here the last time will be tough but with no regrets.”

On May 8, the school board released Braswell from his contract, effective at the end of June. His retirement was announced the following day.

He said he looks forward to a life with more flexibility, where he’ll able to be with family at a moment’s notice. He said he might one day find himself returning to teach a college course.

For seven years, Kim Stevenson has served as Braswell’s secretary. They’ve become like family, sharing some laughs along the way, she said.

It’s probably one of the things Stevenson said she and Kelly Zimmer, another employee in the office, will miss the most about their boss, whom she described as a compassionate and empathetic man with a witty sense of humor.

Keeping busy the last several weeks, she said they haven’t given much thought to Braswell’s departure.

“It’s hard to think about it,” Stevenson said. “We don’t want to think about it. It’s hard to see him leave.

“He’s just going to be truly missed, but I know he’s excited about moving into his new adventures in life, and we wish him well.”

School board President Mia Price said that under Braswell’s tenure, the district has grown from a small district to a fairly large one. In the last 12 years, the district’s student population has almost doubled, totaling nearly 25,000, officials said.

The district has been faced with some difficult challenges financially, Price said, notably the $16 million state revenue reduction for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, and Braswell “has addressed these difficult budget concerns compassionately,” thinking of students’ and staff’s interests through the process.

His retirement, she said, is bittersweet.

“I will certainly miss his leadership, his sense of humor and his friendship,” Price said. “I’m sad to see him go, but I understand he is at a point in his life where his family is his priority, so I wish him well.”

In 2009 and 2003, the Texas Association of School Boards named Braswell one of five finalists for the state superintendent of the year award.

During Braswell’s tenure, the district passed four bond elections totaling $691 million, opened 20 schools and four district facilities, opened the LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex and was named a recognized school district by the Texas Education Agency on three occasions, district officials said.

Braswell said what he’s most proud of is the progress the district has made instructionally and academically every year, not just on standardized tests but overall student achievement. That’s a testament to the staff, he said.

“That would be the most rewarding thing, is that we see the results,” he said. “We could see the improvements. We could see the hard work paying off.”

Braswell said he feels he’s leaving the district in a good place.

“I feel the district is positioned well,” he said. “I feel good about where the district is and the direction it’s heading.”

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is .