From whence we came… Lewisville ISD Education Foundation was founded in 1990 to enrich the quality of public education in the 13 communities served by LISD and serves as a vehicle for securing private funding benefiting LISD teachers and students. The Foundation was created to support excellence in education by establishing and distributing supplemental funds in designated program areas and supporting priority projects identified by LISD for which tax dollars are not available. Funding does not replace or alter use of funds from traditional tax-base sources. All contributions stay in Lewisville ISD and are tax-deductible as allowed by law. Without the foresight of and foundation laid by LISD administrators in the 1990s, LISD would not enjoy the funding LEF provides — almost $300,000 this year alone to students and educators in LISD and more than $2.5 million since LEF’s founding in 1990. Foundation Focus will dedicate space each month to share the legacy of those who laid the foundation for LISD and LEF to exist as they do today, as well as the stories of those currently at the helm.
Dr. Clayton Downing, LISD Superintendent 1983-2001
In 1968 Lewisville High School Principal Ben Harmon hired a new teacher and junior varsity football coach. Coach Downing enjoyed teaching and loved coaching, but regretted the time away from his own family from the beginning of summer practices in July until the last games were played in November or December. Not willing to forgo the impact he could have in the lives of students, but looking for something with a slightly different schedule, Downing decided to move from the classroom and the sidelines to the office as an assistant principal. He served under Marshall Durham as the assistant principal at the school now known as DeLay Middle School, then simply called Lewisville Middle School — the only middle school in LISD. His next assignment was principal of College Street Elementary.
In 1973 LISD Superintendent of Schools Leo Stuver named Downing Assistant Superintendent, where Downing oversaw personnel and curriculum for the district. Downing was soon elevated to Deputy Superintendent where his attention was turned almost exclusively to personnel matters.
By 1983 LISD, home to 13,000 students and still only one high school, was in search of a new leader. Downing was elevated to Superintendent of Schools for LISD. In his 18 years at the helm, LISD grew to a district of 40,000 students and 5 high schools.
“A lot of my peers moved around to get the experience they needed to lead a large district,” Downing said, “But I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time. I started as the superintendent of a 3A district. Before long it was a 4A district. And then a really big 4A district. Suddenly I was the leader of a large 5A district. I had all the variety of experience my peers had, but I hadn’t moved. LISD grew that quickly.”
His adroit leadership of the rapidly changing district earned him admiration near and far. His accolades include the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of North Texas, where Downing earned his doctoral degree; three Region XI Superintendent of the Year awards; Runner up for Texas Association of School Boards Superintendent of the Year award and winner of the Texas Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year award.
Those with whom he worked recall his leadership with great praise and respect. They applaud his honest and fair approach, his familiarity with the community, his vision, his common sense and his intellect regarding the multitude of issues that challenge a growing district. “It was Dr. Downing’s leadership during a period of tremendous growth and change that allowed us to build a reputation for LISD as an outstanding school district, one of the best in the state,” former LISD Assistant Superintendent Doug Killough said. “Dr. Downing’s vision and leadership provided a solid foundation LISD will enjoy for many years to come. From managing every day issues to having the foresight to purchase large parcels of land for schools yet to be built, his leadership left a strong legacy.”
Downing regards that rapid growth as one of the greatest challenges as superintendent. “There was a 12 year stretch when we built 42 new schools,” Downing explained. “We were growing by more than 2,500 students each year. That may not sound like a lot, but 80 percent of the districts in Texas have a total enrollment of fewer students than that. It required new buildings, rezoning, increased staffing every year.”
Other challenges included the changing rules for school funding and improving the academic achievements of LISD students.
“If you look back,” Downing said, “You’ll see that we didn’t have high SAT scores in 1983, and we didn’t have a strong number of National Merit Scholars. I knew we had the personnel in place to give our students a great education, but we needed to refine our approach. By this time Dr. Killian was in charge of curriculum and he created the focus on academics that made us a well-rounded district.”
Former LISD Principal Gary Goldsmith recalls the impact Downing’s leadership had on academics. “Before Dr. Downing took over, LISD was really a group of individual schools going their own direction, Goldsmith said. “What I used at my school wasn’t the same as what my wife used at her school. Dr. Downing brought the schools together, aligned the curriculum and really put the money in the classrooms. Where other districts I served had one microscope for 7th grade science, LISD provided a microscope for every student in the class. The right tools in students’ hands, and strong curriculum across the board was just the kind of common sense that made a big difference.”
Downing was pleased with the results of new initiatives “Even in the midst of tremendous growth, we really strengthened our academics,” Downing said. “We saw SAT scores improve dramatically and suddenly we had a list of National Merit winners. Of course, we still wanted to win in sports, but we created a balance across the district so we were outstanding in every area.”
Downing is quick to offer the kudos to those who worked with him. “You know, when you have a great team, it doesn’t matter who the superintendent is. Things succeed because everyone does their job well,” Downing said. “It makes me proud to drive through this community and see the names of the people with whom I worked on so many of the buildings. To know the community recognized their excellence and named schools and stadiums in their honor confirms what I saw all along. We had a tremendous team in the right place at the right time.”
Growth has slowed, but LISD is still home to great academic opportunities. The funding issue, however, still isn’t resolved statewide. One of the tools LISD used to address the issue was the creation of LEF. Education foundations were beginning to take root in other districts because the funds raised by foundations aren’t subject to state funding formulas and are exempt from recapture by the state in Robin Hood and other fund-sharing plans. When members of the LISD Board of Trustees showed an interest in creating LEF, Downing was a whole-hearted supporter. Thanks to his willingness to approve its creation in 1990, LEF supports students and educators with grant and scholarship opportunities that would otherwise not exist. LEF is honored to be part of the rich heritage and legacy Dr. Downing (and others whose profiles will be unveiled over the coming months) created and is appreciative of the strong leadership guiding LISD today. Together, we will continue the work of changing children’s lives.