When Jeff Kane was celebrated at the dedication of a Forest Meadow Junior High activity center bearing his name, it was standing room only for Richardson ISD administrators, teachers and parents. It is rare in school districts, and almost unheard of in RISD, to name a facility after someone who has never been a district superintendent. 

This man stood out from the crowd. 

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Even as the school undergoes a massive transformation, Kane’s building will remain.  

RISD is transforming all its junior high schools to middle schools. A major construction project underway at Forest Meadow will add classrooms and expand other spaces to accommodate incoming sixth-graders. 

The Jeff Kane Activity Complex will live on in the refurbished building. Students, parents and teachers walking through will be reminded of him daily, but most never met the man. So, who was he?

Kane, a mountain of a man, became a classroom teacher and coach at Lake Highlands High School after serving in the U.S. Air Force. He was named Outstanding Principal by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and by then-State Rep. Tony Goolsby. He visited the White House to receive Forest Meadow’s U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon designation from then-President Bill Clinton in a Rose Garden ceremony.  

“Jeff was perfectly suited to dealing with junior high kids and their worried parents,” his wife Susan says. “He was 6-foot-3 and stood at the end of the hall in his three-piece suit and Florsheim shoes, and he said, ‘There’s just no reason to have a discipline problem.’ He had a calming effect on the kids. He stood bus duty every afternoon and kept his finger on the pulse of everything at the school. His philosophy was to treat every student equally, and the parents appreciated him for it.”

Rayelynn Dady, PTA president at Forest Meadow from 1997 to 1998, recalls that Kane demanded respect and got it. 

“I would see him walk through the cafeteria, and kids would behave,” Dady says. “He had the respect of the teachers as well.”

Cheri Dunn Luck, who chaired Market in the Meadow with Dady in the 1990s, echoes the sentiment. 

“Jeff Kane was the most ‘hands on’ principal with whom I’ve come in contact. He was visible in the morning welcoming all students, he was there with the teachers at lunch, and when a fight broke out, he was there pulling the kids off one another.” 

The only time he wasn’t there, she adds, is when he’d pop over to Moss Haven Elementary to bring lunch and sit with his granddaughter.

Luck says Kane recognized the capabilities of the many women toiling around him, appointing Brenda Owens as the first female athletic coordinator in the district. He often encouraged female volunteers to take the lead, she says.

Luck recalls Kane charming his way out of a bill issued to PTA volunteers after the fundraiser one year.

“After we made a record $60,000 at Market in the Meadow, an administrator from Building Maintenance sent an invoice to Forest Meadow for over $2,000 in air-conditioning costs for the weekend.”

Kane asked the guy to come to his office, where he introduced Luck and Dady and proceeded “with a wry smile and hands behind his head” to detail the amount of volunteer hours spent and how the money would benefit RISD and Forest Meadow.

“The guy left with his tail tucked between his legs, and Jeff laughed out loud when he closed the door,” Luck says. “Jeff said the poor guy never had a chance.”

Today any student willing to tackle challenging curriculum is encouraged to enroll in advanced placement courses in junior high and high school. But back when Donna Chereck’s oldest child was preparing to enter Forest Meadow, kids needed high scores to qualify, and standardized tests weren’t her daughter’s strong suit. After Chereck pleaded her case, Kane allowed her daughter to try advanced classes in English and math, and within two weeks she’d added advanced science and social studies. 

“He had kept an eye on her and took the time to care about how she was performing. I was so appreciative and asked something like, ‘It will be hard to repay you.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you can be my PTA president.’ And I’ll be darned, he soon asked, and I was glad to serve.”

Chereck says Kane had a special place in his heart for PTA volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to aid students at the school. He had a special fondness for Carolyn Gillis, who served as PTA president from 1990 to 1991 and was killed in an auto accident while on vacation with her family. Selfless also in her leadership roles in church and Lake Highlands Women’s League, Gillis was known for her gift of gab.

“Jeff always referred to Carolyn as ‘Have you got a minute, Mr. Kane.’ Then he would give her his undivided attention for an hour,” Chereck says.

Kane died in 1999 after a battle with cancer. His family set up a scholarship in his memory, now administered by the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands.

“Jeffrey loved being a school principal — he enjoyed being around the kids, and he listened to them,” Susan Kane says. “He cultivated a great rapport with the fire chief, the postal service, the gang squad and others, and he used them as tools in his toolbox. 

“If you broke the rules, you paid the price. He also liked to reward his staff. He never met a person he couldn’t deal with, and he had a good sense of humor.”

A posthumous tribute to Jeff Kane from fellow faculty and staff ran in the school directory in 1999-2000, his final year as principal. It concluded with this statement: “Jeff Kane was a man of great stature who led Forest Meadow through its triumphs and tragedies for 14 years. His presence and spirit will always be felt wherever faculty, staff, students and parents gather in our school. Although we will miss him greatly, students and teachers will continue to strive for his goal of educational excellence.”