By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
When Kelby Woodard was hired as the founding president of Cristo Rey Dallas in 2014, the co-ed college prep school did not even have a campus.
Six years later, the finishing touches are being put in place on a 42,000-square-foot innovation center that will add to the current 32,000-square-foot academic
center. This will complete the $24 million campus that will continue to transform not only the area, but students’ lives and future, as well.
The school, located next to St. Augustine Catholic Church in the Pleasant Grove area of southeast Dallas, offers a work-study college prep curriculum that allows students, mostly Hispanic from low-income families, to venture beyond their communities and into professional business and work settings across Dallas.
“There are 140 businesses in Dallas in partnership with us to help students afford a college prep education and a philanthropic community that has bought into the mentality of Cristo Rey to help students who need a voice and an opportunity and when we provide that for them, the sky’s the limit,” Woodard said.
Woodard is leaving Cristo Rey Dallas to move to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he will lead St. Thomas Academy, a 135-year-old all-male Catholic military institution. He said leaving Cristo Rey Dallas is melancholy, but will remain on the board of the Cristo Rey network, based in Chicago.
Plus, he said, he and his family will return to Minnesota, where he served two terms as a Republican state legislator.
He will be succeeded by Bill Garrett, the retiring president of Cristo Rey Atlanta, who will guide the school as the board searches for a new president.
Woodard said that in the beginning the families of potential Cristo Rey Dallas students had to trust the school administrators and business partners with their children’s lives.
“Those families jumped off a cliff with us,” he said. “We tell them, ‘Hey, we got an idea where we can provide a college prep education; they will get on a bus once a week and go downtown and interact with a bunch of adults they don’t know.’
“You only get high school once and they’re deciding whether they’re going to send their son or daughter to Cristo Rey. Now, five years later, it looks like an easy decision, but it wasn’t,” he said.
Woodard said he still remembers seeing 128 freshmen and their families gathered together for the first school Mass.
“I’m thinking of all the prep that has gone on to get to this day and to have 128 families commit with us and to see them on this first day and all of it coming to fruition,” he recalled. “I’m not a crier, but if you did not have a tear in your eye that day, you were not human. It was a miraculous event.”
Over the years, and especially over the past few months, Cristo Rey Dallas has partnered with Catholic Charities Dallas and the North Texas Food Bank for food distribution to those living in the surrounding neighborhood.
Now with the additional space, Cristo Rey Dallas will have the ability to expand its enrollment from the current 480 to a maximum of 600 students.
He also thanked St. Augustine parish for the use of their campus facilities over the past five years.
“They are a very busy parish and we are a very busy high school and this allows us to go from being roommates to being neighbors,” he said.
Woodard said that the impact that Cristo Rey Dallas has had on students and families can be seen in the colleges and universities that the graduates have been accepted into and the millions of dollars in scholarships offered.
But, he said, the impact of Cristo Rey Dallas on the community is only now beginning to take shape.
“You have kids from Pleasant Grove alongside some of those professional consultants, at banks and other prestigious Dallas businesses,” he said. “The effect those kids will have on Dallas businesses and those who don’t live in Pleasant Grove is really impressive and when we are looking at the issues of race relations and questions being asked about race, I think Cristo Rey Dallas is a concrete example what works.
“It is impactful and it is part of the solution to the conversation that we are having,” he said. “It’s hard to put into a brochure, but 20 years from now you’re going to see the impact Cristo Rey Dallas has had on the broader community of Dallas and that will be the legacy of the school.”
See the June 19 print edition of The Texas Catholic for stories on more outgoing administrators from Catholic schools within the Diocese of Dallas.