Former Howe High School principal Stephen “Blake” Stiles died May 13 at the UT Health hospital in Athens, Texas. He was 45 years old.

Stiles served as Howe’s assistant principal for two years before being promoted to principal. During his time as an assistant, he worked under current Howe ISD Superintendent Kevin Wilson, who was principal at the time.

Wilson remembers Stiles as a good man who always put students first.

“He was a quality individual first and foremost,” Wilson said. “While he was principal here, we accomplished a lot of good things. He was very kid-centered and always based his decisions on what was best for the kids.”

After serving as principal for five years, Stiles left in Oct. 2011 to become the assistant superintendent of Athens ISD. The following year, he was promoted to superintendent, a job he held for eight years until his death.

According to a release from Athens ISD, Stiles took a school board-approved medical leave beginning April 6 in anticipation of an upcoming heart procedure. He was expected to return to return to work within the next few weeks. His cause of death is reportedly heart-related.

Stiles was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1974. His father, Larry, was a firefighter, and mother, Sharon, was a school secretary.

Growing up Blake Stiles loved sports, excelling in football, basketball and track.

He met his wife, Claudia, during a 1994 high school basketball tournament at Eastern Oklahoma State College.

The couple married five years later and moved to Paris, Texas. Both took jobs as teachers in a nearby community. Today, Claudia serves the principal of Central Athens Elementary School.

Before coming to Howe, Stiles held several teaching and coaching positions in other districts. During his time in Howe, the high school earned the Texas Education Agency’s exemplary rating for the 2009-2010 school year.

In Athens, he oversaw a major construction and renovation initiative thanks to a $59.9 million bond election in 2015 that he helped usher through. He also oversaw the implementation of a four-day school week in Athens as part of a three-year pilot program.

According to him, the move would allow schools to designate more time to staff development and preparedness for educating students.

Before going on medical leave, Stiles sent a letter to all district employees commending them for their hard work during the COVID-19 closure and related conditions that were constantly evolving and out of their control.

“I want you to know you are seen and appreciated,” he said. “What you do is important. What you do matters.”

Stephen “Blake” Stiles is survived by his wife, Claudia, and their two children, Taylor and Jaxson, and his father, Larry.

Taylor Stiles is the 2020 Athens High School valedictorian.