Keller ISD is welcoming back a familiar face as Dr. Rick Westfall becomes the new superintendent. Westfall had previously spent his time in Keller ISD as the principal of Keller High from 2008 to 2011. He is not only familiar with the way Keller runs, but also recognizes a number of people who have continued their careers in the district.
“It feels great coming back to the community,” Westfall told us when we sat down with him on July 26. “One of the things that was exciting is the number of faces that are familiar. Lots of times when someone moves into a role of the superintendent, they go to a district they have no connection to, they don’t really know the people there. So when you get an opportunity to come back and recognize people and know them and already have that relationship with them, it’s a huge relief,” said Westfall.
Filling the shoes of five-year Superintendent Dr. Randy Reid, Westfall hopes to take some of Reid’s approaches in his own time as superintendent.
“He is a great guy, I know him, he was great in his transition, he’s a very personable guy, he knows how to lead, he understands the state level stuff and legislative items but also knows how to make that consumable for people who aren’t living it every single day. So I think that relational piece is something I certainly want to continue,” Westfall commented.
Westfall has had 24 years of educational background that led him to be Keller’s new Superintendent. Through those years he claims to have life experience that helps him understand how to properly run a district.
“Well [my educational background will bring] number one, a knowledge of the community since I was already here, but two, just experiences of what has worked in public education, what hasn’t worked in public education, the willingness to try some different things, if it means it’s better for students because we’ve been through it,” said Westfall.
He did not grow up knowing he would have his career as an educator; however, through recommendations of his advisor and realization of his love for kids, he changed his career path from banking to first being a math teacher.
“I went into banking for a little bit and that wasn’t what I liked to do and while I was in the banking industry I was working with my youth group at church and really enjoyed working with middle school and high school age students, so I’m sitting there thinking ‘Okay I really don’t like what I’m doing for my career, I like working with students, I have a math degree, it seems like there’s a career there that I can marry the two things together.’ So this was when I was in Ohio, and I moved down to Texas and got my teaching certification and started teaching math at a high school level and that’s sort of what just kicked off the whole thing,” Westfall said.
With the experience he’s had while working with Keller and working in various campus administration positions in Southlake and Grapevine-Colleyville, he is able to envision what he plans for Keller ISD.
“My vision is to talk to students, parents and staff and community members just to hear from them ‘What do you see Keller ISD being in five years or 10 years, what do you want from this place?’ Because I want Keller ISD to be the district people continue to choose and want to stay and continue to move into.” said Westfall.
Being a Superintendent has a lot of important aspects to it, as Westfall recognizes. However, he feels that one vital aspect to be a Superintendent is the ability to listen. “If I’m not listening, I’m not really hearing what the entire organization needs,” he said. With his role, he wants to be able to meet with the community whether that may be principals, teachers or students in order to understand what is best for the district
Westfall was a lone finalist for the position as new Superintendent as well as voted unanimously by the board of trustees. By this standard, the district was confident in giving the position to Westfall. He felt it was “surreal,” during the process and coming to realize that he would be deemed Superintendent.
The relationships he hopes to build with the faculty and students that embody the district now with his role are achieved through a few ways for him.
“I hope they see me as approachable, I hope they see me as someone they can converse with, let me know things that need to be improved, things that they want to celebrate, so I don’t want to be seen as someone who disappears, I want to be seen as someone who is around and they can talk to,” said Westfall. “Same thing [with the students]. I hope students don’t see me as a Superintendent, I hope students see me as someone who’s advocating for them and just because my title happens to be Superintendent and there are some things we can do that’s great, but I want them to see me as the one who’s championing them.”
With large roles in Keller ISD, teachers, principals and administration positions they communicate with the district through the use of social media. Westfall has joined that presence on Twitter with his username @DrRDubKellerISD .
“Yeah so we actually just came out of a meeting, we were talking about the social media presence and how important that is. So the community named me…but we did a poll and the handle that I ended up with for my Twitter account is based off the vote from the community and those that were on Twitter, but it’s a big deal to be where other people are at, so if you’re going to reside on Twitter, if you’re going to be on Facebook, then we’ve got to be there to communicate with you all,” said Westfall.
He not only hopes to communicate with his district through social media but also in the way he personally meets with the members of the district. This could be at “lunch meetings,” or for big agenda items, “town hall meetings.” With a district that is made up of 25 elementary schools, four intermediate schools, six middle schools and four high schools, he is committed to, “just being approachable.”
As a Superintendent, a crucial aspect of the district to monitor is the testing of students. This applies both to the preparation of standardized tests and school given tests.
“Testing is just something we have to endure, especially the state level stuff, anything standardized we just have to do it, it’s part of our business,” said Westfall. “However, we’ve got to be sure we’re putting the students in the right situation that’s best for them. While we can’t control [standardized tests] we can prepare students and get them in the right frame of mind academically to be able to be successful on it. They’re coming, we’ve just got to be proactive about it.”
As the head of the district, he hopes to stress the importance to him of being a relational person. With both the approachability and relational aspect, his goal is to “create the opportunity and the environment for them to want to follow where [the district is] going,” and him as a leader.
Working in public education there are opportunities to take risks. Westfall acknowledges the productive use of taking risks but still doing what’s best for Keller ISD.
“I’m a risk taker to a point, and so there’s a phrase that I’ll use that actually the leadership team heard me using a few days ago. I think as a district and a public education we need to be on the cutting edge, but we don’t need to be on the bleeding edge, and what I mean by that is cutting edge is put yourself out there, try things and if you fail that’s okay. Bleeding means you’re doing it so badly that you’re hurting the organization as a whole,” said Westfall. “So I’m all good with risks and that’s going to be part of it but you’ve got to know when it’s too much and when to pull back from it.”
Keller ISD is a district that continues to grow in population and different approaches. Westfall hopes that his time spent in the district can add to the growth while also making it attractive for those who currently reside in it.
“I want people to continue to say: that’s where I’m going, that’s where I’m going and here’s why,” said Westfall. “Not just because it’s 20 minutes from work or whatever else, I mean I want there to really be an educational reason why people choose Keller.”
— Keller Schools (@KellerISD) July 26, 2017