Ryan Knickerbocker was hired as the Ballinger High School principal on July 5th of this year and is finishing his first semester at the helm of the school, “The main focus was to create a positive atmosphere and an environment of trust,” he says as we talk in his office on the morning of the annual Ballinger basketball tournament at the high school.
Knickerbocker is a west Texas product, hailing from Bangs where he graduated from high school and also began his teaching and coaching career. After spending 4 years teaching at Bangs his career took him to Frisco and then here to Ballinger, “I feel like I came into a situation where there was already a positive foundation so we used that foundation to build relationships between the students and the teachers based on trust and communication.” He also had teachers who had been here for several years to rely on, “The teachers that have been here for years and years have been a wealth of knowledge and help.”
Knickerbocker includes everyone in the school’s plans and activities, “It takes everyone to make the school successful. That includes the students, the teachers, the parents and the community. What we have to be sure we’re doing is including everyone in the school. Voices need to be heard from students to the staff, parents and the community. We need to facilitate those conversations. If someone has an issue that they want to bring up my door is always open.”
The teachers form the integral part of the education system and Knickerbocker says that their enthusiasm helps fuel the students’ enthusiasm, “Our teachers want to learn and grow just like our students do.” Both Knickerbocker and Ballinger ISD superintendent Jeff Butts encourage the teachers and students to further their educations. When it comes to education growth should never stop.
Knickerbocker’s concern for the students and teachers is genuine, “Your heart has to be in the right place. We never want to get complacent because there is always room for growth. We are always looking at new instructional practices to help the students with learning. You’re not going to go wrong as long as you base your decisions on what is best for the kids.”
It’s readily apparent that Knickerbocker is highly regarded and respected by the students, staff and community. His support extends to Butts, “Jeff Butts plays a very active role. He has a balance of being there but gives us flexibility on each campus. He’s been a great mentor. It goes back to establishing trust and relationships with everyone.” When you visit that high school campus you see that there is cohesiveness to everything. It’s all woven together with Knickerbocker’s leadership and the fabric of the staff and students.
The industrial trades class is building a tiny house this year. The house stands behind the school and work is steadily progressing under the guidance of teacher Jonathan Burgess is a Ballinger alum himself, having taken over for the teacher that taught him back in the early 70s. Knickerbocker says that one task the school is working on is the Career Technical Education (CTE) classes, “We want to come up with some new offerings and are working with Howard College. These courses help kids so that they can earn more certifications by the time they graduate. It also helps our teachers.” Knickerbocker says the school is also working on dual credit courses so that the students can graduate with more college hours than have previously been available at the school, “When they start college they’ll be closer to their degree.”
The high school just put on their fall production musical, “Into The Woods, Junior.” Knickerbocker says that the productions can be eye opening, “You see athletes competing and practicing on the field and students in programs and then you see them on stage singing. It’s really neat to see all of the different talents our students have.”
With one semester under his belt, Knickerbocker has had a positive start to his first year leading Ballinger High School. In addition to all that he’s already accomplished, Knickerbocker also helped organize students and teachers to gather donations for Sonora after their epic flooding in September and October. The efforts of the staff and students and generosity of Ballinger’s citizens resulted in them collecting $4,000 for Sonora. Knickerbocker and some students presented the money to Sonora students and their principal.
There are always challenges to face and progress to be made and Knickerbocker understands this and takes it all in stride. He’s competent and resourceful and keeps the students and staff involved in decisions. His availability extends to community and civic groups as he’s spoken at many of the meetings around town. He’s not only willing to share what is happening at the school, he enjoys sharing it and it reinforces his commitment to having conversations and keeping the community informed.