The new Keller ISD superintendent is a familiar face to many Keller residents.
Dr. Rick Westfall, 48, settled in the superintendent’s office Aug. 1, replacing Dr. Randy Reid, who retired after five years as superintendent of the district of 34,000 students that stretches across all of Keller and part of eight other cities.
Westfall, who was principal of Keller High School from 2008 to 2011, returns in his first job as a superintendent. And for him, this opportunity comes with the added bonus of a homecoming to Keller.
“It is truly an honor and such a tremendous opportunity to serve in this role for Keller ISD,” he says. “I love Keller ISD. I loved it when I was here before, and I believe this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Arriving when enrollment growth is leveling off, Westfall is looking forward to concentrating on providing students with the best education and preparation for college, careers and beyond. Not that there won’t be challenges such as school funding, maintaining aging facilities and staying up-to-date on technology advances. But Westfall wants to be sure that his priorities reflect the wishes of the stakeholders he serves.
“I plan to spend a lot of time listening to what people in the KISD want,” he says. “I want to have the opportunity to listen to a lot of people — kids, parents, taxpayers, business owners, teachers and staff — and find out what they want for KISD.”
After leaving Keller High in 2011, Westfall moved into central administration for the Grapevine-Colleyville district. During his tenure in GCISD, Westfall served as deputy superintendent with responsibility for the instructional division, including curriculum and instruction, campus leadership, continuous improvement and accountability and technology.
He shepherded the implementation of the district’s strategic plan and was involved in the planning and design of construction approved in GCISD’s 2016 bond package of $249 million.
As someone who graduated from college with no career plan in mind, Westfall tried to put his mathematics degree from Miami University in Ohio to work as a banker, but quickly discovered that he preferred working with high school students at church to banking.
Before long, he packed up and left Ohio and moved to Fort Worth, where he earned a master’s degree at Texas Christian University and began teaching at Dunbar High School in Fort Worth.
Westfall began his move into administration as an assistant principal in the Carroll school district. He served as principal of the Carroll High School campus for ninth- and 10th-graders for four years before becoming principal of Keller High.
The search firm of School Executive Consulting Inc. helped the Keller school board with the superintendent search process.
Keller School Board President Craig Allen described Westfall as the perfect fit for the district.
“He is a strong leader who is dedicated to providing open and transparent communications, maintains a focus on student success while supporting the work of teachers,” Allen says. Furthermore, Westfall “has a track record of success and is familiar with our community after having the majority of his career in northeast Tarrant County.”
Westfall earned a doctorate from Tarleton State University. He and his wife, Michelle, a former elementary school teacher, have one son, Grant, a junior at Northwest ISD’s Eaton High School.
We asked him to answer a few questions about his plans for the Keller ISD, his career and his life:
What are your top priorities as superintendent?
I shared with our administrators that I have three core values in my life, and they are in the following order: faith, family, work.
I've found that when my spiritual life is in order, the rest will fall into place. For me, it's not about religion, it's about a relationship. In my faith I focus on grace, mercy, accountability, integrity and forgiveness. As for family, my wife, Michelle, and I have been married 24 years; she is my rock. Our son, Grant will be a junior in high school this year. With regard to work, I make student-centered decisions. I'm all about doing what's best for kids.
What are the greatest challenges?
Keller ISD, in addition to every other district in Texas, will continue to face a funding crisis unless our lawmakers find a way to address the growing problem. Regardless of this challenge, we are always looking for ways to engage our students in a way that will ensure we are continuing to provide the exceptional educational opportunities that our families expect.
Do you see bond packages on the horizon? If so, when?
We will continue working with our board of trustees to finalize, but are discussing a possible Tax Ratification Election (TRE) in 2018 seeking voter approval to increase our maintenance and operations (M & 0) tax rate by 0.13 cents while lowering our debt service of bonds by 0.13 cents. This would generate an additional $19 million without a tax rate increase and would allow us to continue to recruit and retain an exceptional educational staff while giving a much-needed raise to our teachers to help offset the continuing rise in the cost of living in DFW. We would have the additional dollars to help fund daily operations; salaries, utilities and supplies. We may hold a bond election for approximately $130-$150 million sometime in 2018 or 2019, but it, too, would be done without a tax rate increase. Regardless of whether the election(s) pass or not, the district does not project a tax rate increase at all.
What improvements, capital or otherwise, would you like to see the district make?
As we near build-out, our focus now is more on renovating some of our older buildings and updating technology and systems. Improvements in the district will be driven by conversations with the community. The key is asking our parents, students, business owners and educators what they expect as we create our vision going forward.
What drew you to KISD as principal of Keller High and now as superintendent of the district?
The entire Keller ISD community is an amazing and supportive place to work as an educator. This community wants the very best for their students. I wanted to work at Keller High as the principal and again in Keller ISD as the superintendent because I know we can do amazing things together, as a community, for the students in our district.
Tell us about your career as an educator?
My path as an educator started in a magnet program in Fort Worth ISD teaching advanced mathematics. After six years of working with a range of students from around the FWISD, I was selected to serve in an administrative capacity in Carroll ISD. I served as an assistant principal and principal for nine years. Those experiences prepared me to serve in Keller ISD for three successful years as the principal of Keller High School. After 12 years of campus leadership, I was afforded the opportunity to work again with my mentor in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD as the chief learning officer, which transformed into the deputy superintendent’s position. I loved my three years in Keller and am happy to serve now as the district's superintendent.
Tell us about your hobbies?
With my son in high school, my wife and I spent most of our free time focused on him with high school band concerts and Friday night football games.