Jim Cain had just finished his dissertation at the University of Houston in spring 1978 when he drove to northwest Houston for an interview with Klein ISD Superintendent Donald Collins about an assistant principal’s job at Benfer Elementary School.
“I remember distinctly going home that evening and telling my wife that not only did I hope I would be offered a job, but that some day I would love to be superintendent in Klein,” Cain said.
Now in his 36th year serving KISD in various capacities—including 11 years as superintendent—Cain has announced his decision to retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year. During Cain’s time in the role, the district grew by 13,500 students and saw the passage of three bond packages, increases in graduation rates and the reduction of dropout rates.
“He’s been an incredible leader—someone who thinks of what’s best for the community as a whole first and the kids first,” said Curt Drouillard, associate superintendent of human resources. “He’s done an incredible job making Klein a premier school district.”
Career in education
Cain, 68, was born in Illinois and grew up in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1969, he took a job as a fifth-grade teacher and basketball coach in southern Illinois not far from where he was born.
After two years as a teacher in his home state, Cain decided to move to Texas on the advice of a former high school classmate, Ralph Corey, who was a student at Baylor medical school at the time. Cain spent seven years at Clear Creek ISD before taking his first KISD job at Benfer Elementary School in 1978.
Playing a number of roles for the district over the next four decades, Cain served as principal at Greenwood Forest and Nitsch elementary schools and assistant principal at Hildebrandt Intermediate and Klein Oak High schools in addition to administrative positions.
Following a two-year stint with Fort Bend ISD, Cain returned to KISD in 1999, and in 2004, he was selected by the board of trustees as the district’s next superintendent—the job he knew he wanted 26 years prior. He credited Collins, who he considers a mentor, with giving him the opportunity to work with students at every level and praised Collins’ leadership.
Collins likewise praised Cain’s job as superintendent.
“Dr. Jim Cain, my longtime friend, is one of the best school superintendents that I have ever known,” Collins said in a statement. “Dr. Cain is extremely intelligent, always prepared, well-informed, observant and is a respected community leader. His objective, when he took the position of superintendent of Klein ISD, was to take the school district to the next higher level, and he did it.”
Leaving a legacy
In serving as superintendent for the last 11 years, Cain said he is proud of the district’s growth and of many of its accomplishments. He cited $1.3 billion in bond referendums passed, improvements in academic performance and the district’s focus on relations with students, parents and staff.
Cain’s dream job has not come without its fair share of challenges. He said the district has experienced changing demographics as more students with academic challenges continue to enroll in KISD schools. The issue exacerbates the district’s funding struggles at the state level.
“I truly believe that for what we are trying to achieve with all of our students, that we are underfunded by the state of Texas,” he said.
Despite the obstacles Cain has faced as superintendent, he said he will miss the day-to-day challenges of the job, which he enjoys. Most of all, however, the superintendent said he will miss the people.
“I’m going to miss the daily interaction with the people—the teachers, the principals, the kids, the parents [and] the community members,” he said. “That human interaction that is so marvelous in our school district, I’m going to miss that.”
Cain said the decision to retire was a tough call as the district has been so good to his family. In talking with his wife, Susan, the couple decided retirement would give him more time to spend with their son, Ross; daughter, Ashley; and four grandchildren. It would also allow them more time to travel.
“In conversations with my wife, she said, ‘We’re not getting any younger. We still have a lot of places we want to go [and] things we want to do,’” Cain said.
Although Cain will be gone soon after the KISD school year commences in the fall for the first time in years—on a trip to France with his wife—district officials said he will leave behind a long-lasting legacy.
“[Cain] was a natural-born administrator,” said James Wunderlich, who served as the general counsel for KISD for nearly 40 years. “He has been a real asset in rebuilding the district to its position of leadership. He is going to leave a legacy that’s going to be extremely difficult to fill.”