With a father who served as a public school superintendent and a family filled with teachers, one might say that Jae Gaskill was born to be an educator.
She wouldn’t have said that. At least not when she was making her way through college. Her plan was a career in physical therapy.
“All of my family is in education,” Gaskill explained, “and I was the one that said, ‘I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do something else.’”
But, our gifts have a way of finding us out.
As it turned out, she had a knack for the family business, and to those who know her and work alongside her today, it’s perfectly fitting that this outstanding third-year principal of McKinney North High School has been named the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) Region 10 Outstanding High School Principal of the Year.
TASSP recognizes outstanding principals and assistant principals from the twenty region Education Service Centers in the state. School administrators are nominated and chosen by their peers within their regions. The nominations are based upon exemplary performance and outstanding leadership, and as a Region 10 winner, Gaskill is eligible to compete for the state title of TASSP Texas Principal of the Year.
McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel was not surprised that Gaskill was singled out for recognition by TASSP. “Jae Gaskill truly has a heart for all students and the faculty members that she oversees on a daily basis,” he said. “Her decisions are based solely on what’s best for her students, while at the same time weighing the needs of others. I’m extremely proud of Mrs. Gaskill.”
“I’m very honored and humbled,” Gaskill said of the recognition. “To be named the TASSP Region 10 High School Principal of the Year is a huge honor that I do not take lightly.”
Twenty-six years ago, she tried a different career path, but it just didn’t take. “I worked in a hospital for two years while I was finishing my degree in medical science and got to the end, and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said. “The work that I was doing was reactionary, and it was a response to something that I had no ability to prevent. And, I didn’t enjoy it.”
She wound up back where she grew up in the tiny, rural town of Leonard situated about 45 minutes northeast of McKinney. She earned her certification and began teaching science and coached girls basketball and track and cheerleading. And, the time she spent there would change the course of her life.
“After really not even a semester, I just knew [that I belonged in education],” she said. “I loved working with kids and helping them find their way, and it was just something that I really enjoyed.”
The next year, Gaskill put the small town life of Leonard behind her and made her way down 75 to Allen ISD, where she taught biology, IPC and coached basketball, track and cross-country. By 1999, she had earned her master’s degree and moved into administration as a house principal in what was then the brand new Allen ISD Lowery Freshman Center. “At that time, there were just two house principals and a building principal…it grew quite a bit,” she added.
McKinney North High School Principal and TASSP Region 10 Outstanding High School Principal of the Year Jae Gaskill greets students as they enter school on the first day of the 2018-2019 school year.
Not long after, she transferred to Allen High School where she served as a house principal for four years—until Principal Jimmy Spann called one day from McKinney North High School.
“I had known Mr. Spann through TASSP. We had met through that organization several years earlier,” Gaskill said. “We both came from small towns; I came from Leonard, and he grew up in Whitewright, and that’s kind of how we knew each other.
“When he came to McKinney, he called me and said, ‘Would you want to come over? Just come down the road.’ And, I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Gaskill joined the staff at North as associate principal and would serve in that capacity for the next nine years alongside Spann until his retirement in 2016.
They were formative years for Gaskill as she gleaned wisdom from Spann’s experience as a principal and leader, laying the foundation for the day when she might have the opportunity to step into the role of principal.
“I think something that he provided for a lot people was just an example of leadership and helping people think about themselves as a leader both in the classroom and outside the classroom,” Gaskill said. “We have a lot of staff that have moved into leadership positions, and I think it’s because of Mr. Spann’s leadership—and I still try to continue that. If we’re not doing everything we can to help the people we work with think about how they can make more of an impact for students, then we’re really not doing our job as a campus leader.”
“We made a good team,” said Spann. “We learned from each other, and I learned from her as much as—I hope—she learned from me.”
Gaskill and Spann shared a common philosophy and vision for North. “A family atmosphere is something that we talked about, and we pushed—the importance of loving those kids and loving the teachers and being there for each other,” said Spann. “That was my belief, and she shared that same belief. We were able to continue to grow that.”
Together, they had high expectations for their staff and their students as they laid the groundwork for what they wanted North to be. “We said, ‘We have to have this from our staff. We have to have this from our kids,’” Spann said. “And, we didn’t back away from it. We stayed steadfast with it, and there were times when I wanted to say, ‘Let’s back off,’ and she would say, ‘No, we’re not. We’re going to keep pushing.’”
Spann had arrived at North relatively late in his career, and when the time came for him to retire, Gaskill was the logical choice to succeed him as principal. Spann had no doubt that she was the educator for the job.
“I told her, ‘People see the work you do,’” he said. “‘There’s no doubt about the quality of your work and how you go about your business.’ I never got more excited than when she became the principal of McKinney North because I knew that it would go up a notch and that what we had built would continue to stay there and grow even more.”
Gaskill is still pointed in the same direction, holding firmly to the conviction that students need a supportive environment in which they are pushed and challenged in order to prepare them for life after high school—where the job market, both today and in the future, holds many unknowns.
“That’s always been my ultimate goal,” Gaskill said. “Whether I was a classroom teacher or a house principal or associate principal…that when our kids leave high school, they are ready. They are ready for whatever’s next—so that no matter what they decide to do, they can say, ‘I was prepared.’”
With that in mind, she pointed out that MISD students have amazing opportunities to explore career options while still in high school. “I grew up in a small school. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We didn’t choose anything. We were told, ‘Here’s your schedule.’ There was no choice other than, ‘Are you going to play basketball? Or are you going to Home Ec.?’ That was kind of your choice.
“Our district provides our students with amazing choices. If we can help a kid figure out, ‘You know, I really don’t want to be a nurse. I’d rather go into digital animation and graphics…’ Awesome,” she said.
Spann was not shocked when Gaskill was chosen as the TASSP Region 10 Outstanding High School Principal of the Year. “Her winning that award doesn’t surprise me the least bit,” he said. “No one is going to out work her. No one is going to love kids any more than she does. No one is going to be more loyal to her school and to her job than she is. She is 100 percent invested in North. No doubt. She is invested through and through.”
Perhaps Gaskill’s own path early in her career fueled her passion to help students prepare for life after high school, to help them start with everything they need.
“I had said, ‘I’m going to find my own way,’ and I guess I did. But, it brought me back to education—and I’m really glad it did.”
So are we, Mrs. Gaskill.
So are we.
Each of the region winners (which includes the Outstanding High School Assistant Principal of the Year, the Outstanding Middle School Principal of the Year and the Outstanding Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year) will be recognized during the Josten’s Night of the Stars Awards Dinner on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, at the Hilton Austin Downtown Hotel. Each will be presented with an award and recognized in a commemorative book entitled Texas Principals, Texas Heroes. The TASSP Summer Workshop will be held June 12-14, 2019, at the Austin Convention Center.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.