Ryan Kettler

Don’t think Ryan Kettler, the new principal at Rio Rancho High School, grew up dreaming about being a high school principal.

“I wanted to be a doctor; I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon — specifically sports,” the one-time prep and college athlete said last week during telephone interview. (The pandemic relegated a previously scheduled face-to-face meeting to telephonic.)

“I had knee problems in high school,” he said.

He not only played football, but also basketball. He had a “great experience” with an orthopedic surgeon, working on a knee injury, and, “That was enough for me.”

Raised in the birthplace of Cabela’s, Sidney, Neb., which has about 6,800 residents, Kettler learned that hard work paid off.

“We were farmers; I spent a lot of time on a tractor,” he said. “We were raised to work hard; we were wheat farmers.”

At Sidney High, he said, “I came to school every day — I was never absent — I turned in my homework every day. I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I worked hard — I took honors classes.”

Following graduation, he headed to the Lone Star State, playing basketball and golf at Wayland Baptist, where he majored in pre-medicine.

He then went to the University of Texas-Permian Basin, where he obtained his degree in kinesiology.

“After we moved to New Mexico, I went to UNM and got my PhD in sports administration,” he said, which then led to myriad jobs in the educational realm. “I coached and taught basketball at Rio Grande High School for two years, coached boys basketball at Del Norte High School, was the athletic director at Highland High School in 2009 or ’10, then was an assistant principal at Jackson Middle School, an assistant principal at Cibola High School and six or seven years ago, I became an assistant principal at Cleveland High School.

“When Sherri (Carver) got the principal position here, she asked me to come over here and I said absolutely; Sherri knew I wanted to be a principal one day,” he said, now in his fifth year at RRHS.

He is the school’s fifth principal since it opened in 1997.

“I’m not only the principal, but I’m a parent of a student at Rio Rancho High School and another at Cyber Academy,” he said.

Although some school districts are facing a shortage of qualified teachers prior to the 2020-21 school year, that’s not the case at RRHS.

“I’m happy to say we are fully staffed; we had five positions to fill in the last couple of weeks,” he said, adding qualified teachers were found for those slots. “Our staff is anxious about coming back into the buildings; the message we’re sending is ‘one day at a time.’ When we get to September or October and the blended model, we’ll start talking to them. The district’s doing a real good job.”

Students and staffers will note a few changes when they return to the campus after Labor Day.

“We won’t have the moving-up ceremony,” he said, which had been an annual start for the school year, with the students gathering en masse, by class, in the gym, and then “moving up” to the next grade, or another section in the gym.

Plus, he said, changes included the postponement of several fall sports into the winter, and, “I’m starting a principal’s advisory council,” in which he hopes to “make students part of the leadership as much as possible at (RRHS). We’re gonna work with our students to use their voices — they’ve got really good ideas; I want to engage them in their ideas, help them get on the path to be our future.”

On Friday, Kettler did a virtual greeting to RRHS students.

“I told staff on Tuesday … through a virtual meeting, we need to focus on getting through the start, deliver quality instruction, stay healthy with their family and taking care of each other. We will do all the curriculum, all the data studies — but focus on being socially and emotionally healthy,” he said.

Starting & continuing in education

His wife, Jessica, is the principal at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary; he said the two often talk about education and the new, uncharted waters brought about by the pandemic.

“My wife and I got into education right before 9/11; we talk about all the challenges educators face. We thought 9/11 was the peak. (But) we’ve seen growth in teachers, and all the students have Chromebooks, so they can learn at home,” Kettler said.

“We want to have a partnership with families and parents. How can we help the community; how can we help the parents? The kids are home; we want to make sure they can access teachers. It’s a partnership that’s more important than ever.”

Although some opine this is the worst time to be in education, Kettler isn’t among them.

“I actually think it’s the best time — no doubt it’s a challenging time. In the digital age we live in, there’s no better time to learn through digital platforms. I think they’re gonna do great things.”

Kettler will tell you, “I’m happy being the principal at Rio Rancho High School. I can’t imagine my kids at any other high school.”

Now, the important things, he says, are to “be home daily; don’t look too far ahead right now; focus on taking care of ourselves and each other. As we go through a difficult time, learn and grow together in this new world of teaching and learning.”