A Successful StartAug 01, 2018 ● By Lisa Ferguson
The 2018-2019 school year will see the much-anticipated opening of four new Frisco schools — Memorial High School, Lawler Middle School and Talley and Liscano Elementary Schools — whose debuts were postponed following a 2016 vote by FISD trustees in an effort to save the district millions of dollars in maintenance and operational costs. The additional schools will bring the district’s total to 72 campuses, which, beginning this month, will serve approximately 60,000 students.
Count on Dr. Waldrip, a resident of McKinney, to visit each of those schools this academic year, just as he did during the 2017-2018 school year. It is, after all, his favorite aspect of being the superintendent. “What I enjoy most is going out to the campuses and seeing the great things we are doing with our kids,” he says. “You have to get out there and you have to be visible and you have to have those conversations with teachers, kids and parents.”
He is especially excited to witness the kick-off of INCubatoredu at four Frisco high schools. During the two-year academic course, students will be advised by entrepreneurs and other professionals about how to best develop, test and pitch their own business models to potential investors. “It gives them the opportunity to get that (real-world) experience now, while they are still in high school and going into higher education and pursuing careers,” he shares. “I think it will give them a tremendous leg up, from a competitive standpoint, with their peers.”
Dr. Waldrip’s dedication to and appreciation for taking a hands-on approach is likely the result of the 16 years he spent as a biology teacher and coach in several districts throughout the state. While growing up in the small West Texas city of Post (founded by breakfast cereal magnate C.W. Post), he says, “I had some really good coaches and some really good teachers. It impressed upon me, at an early age, that teaching might be something really cool to do as a career. I did not have any designs on necessarily becoming an administrator or a superintendent at that time. I just wanted to be a good teacher and a good coach.”
After playing basketball for a year at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Dr. Waldrip went on to study physical education and biology at Texas Tech University. It was there, in a psychology class, that he met his wife, Lisa, who works for the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. The couple, who have been married for 38 years, are parents to a pair of adult sons. James Waldrip lives in Austin and works for a surgical microscope manufacturer and John Waldrip is a Plano resident who, this month, begins as the assistant principal at Christie Elementary School in Frisco (he previously held the same position at Scott Elementary School).
Upon earning his bachelor’s degree in 1982, Dr. Waldrip landed his first teaching and coaching position with the Victoria ISD in South Texas. From there, he went to work in Goliad, southeast of San Antonio, before heading back to West Texas, where he joined the Seminole ISD. In 1995, three years prior to becoming the assistant principal at Seminole High School, he coached its varsity boys’ basketball team when the Indians made a run at the state championship. Although the team lost the game, “It was a tremendous experience,” he recalls.
In 2000, Dr. Waldrip received his master’s degree from Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Two years later, he began his first stint with the FISD when he was hired as the principal at Clark Middle School. He eventually went back to school at the University of North Texas, where, in 2008, he earned his doctorate degree.
He opened Liberty High School as its principal in 2006 — an experience he considers among the most notable of his nearly 40-year career. When enrollment climbed faster than had been projected, the FISD relieved a crowded Centennial High School by subbing in what is now the Fowler Middle School building to serve as the temporary campus of Liberty High School for one year until its facility could be constructed and opened.
“We started a school twice,” he explains. “It was quite an ordeal there for a couple of years, taking those kids out of Centennial then going to a middle school facility for a year, then transitioning over to the high school facility. I think that is one of the things that made Liberty such a special facility. I think that speaks really to the good job that district staffers have done through the years — growing this district into what it has become. There were issues and problems we dealt with, but nothing so difficult that we did not have a solution or were not able to overcome it.”
In 2010, Dr. Waldrip was named the FISD’s assistant superintendent of program evaluation and information services, a position he held for nearly three years. He then spent a year as its deputy superintendent of administrative operations before accepting the superintendent’s job at the Coppell ISD in 2014. He said that experience, coupled with his previous dozen years in Frisco, prepared him well to lead the FISD. “A lot of the same things go on in every school district. Coppell is not nearly as large as Frisco, so you can just multiply the things you deal with in a school district of that size to get to the magnitude of what we have here in Frisco,” he explains. “Having been here through those significant growth years and coming back to it, it was not something that was necessarily foreign to me.”
The FISD Board of Trustees president John Classe says Dr. Waldrip was able to “hit the ground running” because of his history with the district. “That was key, and the board thought that would allow him to start moving faster than maybe some of the others (superintendent candidates) who were not as familiar with our district, so that has worked out pretty well. In the short amount of time he has been superintendent, he has been able to start to identify things he wants to implement and change. It has been good.”
Going forward, 59-year-old Dr. Waldrip says the district will continue to provide innovative educational programming and opportunities for its students. “There are some special things about Frisco that perhaps other school districts do not necessarily have or experience,” he says. This is largely resulting from its partnerships with the city, community and business leaders and area sports franchises including the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Stars, Frisco RoughRiders and FC Dallas soccer teams. “There is no shortage of people who want to be involved with the school district and want to contribute. We are really fortunate in that regard.”