The Power and Passion of a Community

Dr. Rick Westfall, Superintendent, Keller ISD; Sloan Harris, CEO | Partner, VLK Architects; Ken Hutchens, Chief Creative Officer, VLK Architects

From 2000 – 2011, Keller ISD opened 13 new elementary schools, seven intermediate and middle school campuses, two new high schools, and the Keller Early Learning Center. The district started the 2019-2020 school year without opening a single new building.

As Keller ISD was reaching this transition period, in 2017, Dr. Rick Westfall was hired as Superintendent. Student growth was slowing as the district neared build-out and a new vision was needed for a district that had many aging facilities. The district undertook a visioning process as the first step with the guiding fundamental that the district administration knew this wasn’t about what they, the district, wanted. This was the community’s district. “What does the community want for the students of Keller ISD in the future?” This question and belief would drive the work ahead.

"As I reflect on 2017-18, my first year in Keller ISD as Superintendent, I remember the first question, 'What is your vision for this district?' My answer was always simple: I wanted to listen to the community to help bring its vision for Keller ISD to fruition," said Westfall.

Now, with the guidance of the Keller ISD Visioning Core Values, planning meetings between the district and VLK representatives designed a holistic approach to align Keller’s instructional practices and facilities with community expectations. Representing every corner of Keller ISD, more than 260 parents, community members, teachers, administrators, and students came together as the Long-Range Facility Planning Committee to discuss the challenges presented by current facility conditions and the future direction of the district.

Education Specifications & Technical Design Guidelines

Work began with a core group of community members and district representatives that developed Education Specifications and Technical Design Guidelines. Teams representing all academic departments across the district developed the Education Specifications, studying next-generation learning environments, Keller ISD student learning styles, and Keller ISD’s teaching and learning expectations and goals. In addition, VLK hosted Furniture Expos at elementary and secondary campuses to gather student and teacher voices for preferences in furniture for classroom, collaboration, library, and teacher collaboration spaces. The student voice was also captured through interviews with Dr. Westfall’s Student Advisory Council representing the five high schools in the district. Simultaneously, VLK and district representatives worked to create a new set of Technical Design Guidelines specifying the materials and systems to be used throughout the district. This would allow the district to move forward with the construction or modification of any facilities in a standardized and efficient way. This results in optimization of purchasing for facilities as well as in maintenance and operations budgets for the district. As the work of these two groups concluded, the resulting documents would serve as tools for the next step in the process.

Facility Conditions Assessment & Educational Adequacy Assessment

Additionally, VLK performed two assessments – a Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) and an Educational Adequacy Assessment (EAA). In the FCA, teams of architects and engineers accessed every square inch of every campus, identifying materials and systems that needed, or would soon need, replacement based on their physical condition and life-cycle expectancy. Life safety systems and building code requirements were also included. Costs for replacement and improvement for everything identified were calculated. The EAA analyzed all campuses’ capability of educating students in alignment with education facility design best practices, Texas Education Agency guidelines, and the district’s new Education Specifications described above. Principals at each campus were also interviewed to fully understand campus administration’s future needs and goals. These elements, combined with a Capacity Analysis derived from the district’s 10-year demographic projections, informed additions and renovations needed at campuses in addition to the FCA.

LRFP Meeting
Long Range Facility Planning Committee

As the two previous phases of work concluded, the resulting documents would serve as tools and resources for the next stages of work for the Long-Range Facility Planning Committee -- the results of which would be the Long-Range Facility Plan (LRFP) for the district’s 10-year business plan. Subcommittees were formed to focus on areas of alternative education, athletics, building maintenance, career and technical education, curriculum and instruction, fine arts, safety and security, special education, and technology. This allowed a much deeper dive into the specific needs of each discipline. After working through all the resources and discipline needs, each subcommittee prioritized their list to be considered by the entire committee.

Citizens Bond Advisory Committee
Citizens Bond Advisory Committee

The result of the nearly six month’s work was a prioritized list – composed by the KISD community – of 66 projects totaling nearly $1.2 billion that the committee recommended be addressed over the next decade. With the KISD Board of Trustees’ adoption of this Long-Range Facility Plan, the Board then convened the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee – or CBAC. Made up of KISD parents and residents, the CBAC met to address which of the projects in the Long-Range Facility Plan should be considered first, taking into consideration the priorities assigned by the Long-Range Facility Plan and the district’s financial capacity.

After two months of work using VLK’s Consensus Framework and their proprietary bond-building application CoVoice, the KISD’s Citizens Bond Advisory Committee (CBAC) proposed a slate of 11 projects to the Board intended to impact all 42 campuses across the district, with a proposed bond value of $315 million. This recommendation was approved by the Board and submitted to the community in a bond election for November of 2019.

"I am struck by the power and the passion of the Keller ISD community always willing to come together to do what is in the best interest of our students. Parents, teachers, students, administrators, and community members are staying focused on their vision for educational excellence in our district," said Westfall. "Our community is clearly helping us chart the path to even greater things for Keller ISD students."

This article is a snapshot of a process that lasted approximately 10 months, involved 260 stakeholders, dozens of architects, engineers, and consultants, and a Board of Trustees. This process is called VLK | LINK®. It facilitates the vision of a district and fully addresses all needs, culminating in a bond program. It aligns the community’s expectations with the district’s actions, and comprehensively captures educational needs, physical condition needs, capacity needs, leadership goals, and curriculum plans, resulting in a true long-range plan for future readiness.