Abilene ISD Communications

Thirteen years ago the Ritchey family had a decision to make when leaving Hereford: move to Amarillo, Lubbock, or Abilene. The decision of where they would move was based on the best educational opportunities for their daughter, McKaela, who was just about to enter high school.

McKaela had known since elementary school that she wanted to be a pharmacist, and Hereford ISD wasn’t offering the kind of CTE courses at the time that would help put her on the right track. She began researching school districts that offered her desired programs and narrowed her choices to Amarillo, Lubbock, and Abilene. Abilene ISD opened the Holland Medical program, which caught her eye.

A visit to Abilene pushed the Ritchey family closer to moving to the Big Country, and reassuring words about AISD from former Abilene High School assistant football coach and then-Hereford High School head coach Don DeLozier sealed the deal. The Ritchey family moved to Abilene, sent their daughter through AISD, and both parents got jobs in the district.

It was a decision the family has never regretted.

“My daughter researched what she wanted, even as a junior high student,” Claudia said. “Only three districts near our family in Lubbock offered what she wanted: Amarillo, Lubbock, and Abilene. We came down to Abilene and she fell in love with Holland. My husband shadowed some assistant principals for a few days and came back and said that Abilene was where we needed to move. But we came to Abilene because of what AISD offered McKaela compared to other districts.”

Abilene quickly became home for the Ritchey family as McKaela graduated from Abilene High School, earned her degree from Texas Tech University, and then graduated from Texas Tech’s University Health Sciences Center in Abilene. She is now a pharmacist for Hendrick Health, putting the lessons learned at AHS and Holland to use in the profession of her dreams.

Claudia got a job in the district and has spent time at Austin, Long, Reagan, and Martinez elementary schools, DAEP, Madison and Clack middle schools, and the Woodson Learning Center. She started as a teacher, taught bilingual education and speech, and just completed her second year as an assistant speech pathologist at Ortiz Elementary School.

Her husband, Joey Ritchey, joined Mann Middle School when the family moved to Abilene, and he retired six years ago. In short, the education and opportunities AISD presented the Ritchey family were things Claudia might not have expected but came to love and appreciate.

“Everyone here is so welcoming and sweet,” she said. “Abilene is just the right size in terms of the size of the city. We found a great church, which was a big plus. Everyone in the district – from the people in the administration building to the campus-level people – has been so supportive, and they’ve been patient. I’ve made friends, and the students have been amazing at every campus.”

However, Ritchey had to make the hard decision earlier this year to retire so that she and her husband could move to Lubbock and be caretakers for his parents, who sold the family farm of 58 years in Colorado City to move to Lubbock to be near family.

When she left Ortiz Elementary School for the final time, she left a place and district she loved for 13 years.

“I love my job,” she said. “I love the people I work with and the kids. I love the people here. I love the community. I love AISD. I love everything about it. The last day (was) a hard day. But we feel led to make this move.”

Ritchey said the reason her family chose AISD is why anyone moving into the city should look to AISD: because it’s a leader in Texas in CTE programs that give students an advantage in the job market.

“AISD offers a wide range of opportunities for students that other school districts don’t,” she said. “Some might be starting to offer them, but it’s coming along slowly. AISD already has those programs, and a beautiful building (The LIFT Center) to host them. I also love how local universities work with AISD to give our students opportunities and prepare them for college or the workforce.

“My daughter was not ready for the tougher academics she found at Abilene High,” Ritchey said. “She had a tutor her freshman year, but she eventually got there because she had teachers at AHS and Holland who prepared her for college and pharmacy school. When she got to Tech, she said, ‘Mom, I was ready for this because of what I learned at AHS and Holland.’ AISD did that for her.”

While her parents are moving to Lubbock, McKaela and her husband – AHS graduate Toby Harnage – are moving to Midland where he will be enrolled in the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to study physical therapy. McKaela will continue working remotely for Hendrick, and she and her husband plan to move back to Abilene when he finishes PT school.

And when they get back here, they might find Claudia as a part-time house guest.

“I’m going to miss Abilene,” she said. “The school district, church, students, and the community. But I don’t plan on leaving for good. We found a family here: our friends, church family, and AISD family. I’ll probably do some substitute teaching when I visit, and hopefully, we can move back. But I’ll miss it while we’re gone.”