By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
Growing up with a high school band director for a father, Dr. Robert Muller, the Killeen Independent School District's interim superintendent, never envisioned that he would, one day, be an educator.
But, after graduating from Oklahoma State University with a degree in economics and a multitude of science classes under his belt, Muller – who was in need of a job – landed a teaching position.
His goal though, was to become a dentist and Muller was admitted to dental school.
But, shortly after starting his job as a biology teacher with a school district in Broken Arrow, Okla., Muller developed such a passion for the teaching profession that all of his plans to pursue dental school quickly vanished.
Looking back now, Muller has no regrets.
A noble profession
"I became a teacher at a time when we didn't have alternative certification programs and I had taken enough science classes that I was qualified to teach. I stuck with it. I enjoyed everything about teaching – the students, the atmosphere," Muller said Friday.
Early mentors coached Muller in the direction of administration, a field to which he was drawn.
While still teaching biology, Muller pursued a master's degree from Oklahoma State University and applied for a fellowship with the University of Texas at Austin. Muller was admitted to the fellowship and returned to his home state of Texas where he completed the requirements for a doctorate degree in education administration from UT at Austin.
In more than 25 years as an educator, Muller moved through a series of positions – executive director for secondary students in Ector ISD; superintendent of the Van Alstyne ISD north of Dallas; associate commissioner for school improvement and later chief of staff of the Texas Education Agency in Austin – before finally joining the KISD as the executive director for student services.
"It's all been interesting work," Muller said looking back at his career, adding "each job has it's own set of demands and each position gives you an entirely different perspective. Education is really a noble profession."
Although he can't point to one job and say it was his favorite, Muller fondly looks back at each one and finds something rewarding – from remembering the student who made it to state championships while he was coaching wrestling, to a school and park building project that brought a community together at Van Alstyne ISD, to writing the rules for a statute to grant World War II vets their high school diplomas while at the TEA.
Despite his many accomplishments, Muller remains humble.
Muller shares the educational philosophy of the widely-accepted "learner-centered classroom," which suggests that the students are, and should always remain, the focus of the classroom.
"Teachers have to build relationships with and know their students, know their content and be well-versed in their subject matter. They have to be learners," Muller said, adding that although so much is expected of today's educators, he also recognizes teachers numerous constraints.
"There are a lot of frustrations for teachers – demands that minimize their time with students. Teachers only see students for 50 minutes, but they may need two hours to get (through to them)," Muller said.
And about the TAKS test, Muller said, "There's a danger with TAKS that it can cause too much of a focus on testing, but the thing about TAKS is that it's just one part of the accountability piece. The TAKS is a two-dimensional test and a snapshot in time."
The biggest challenge for KISD, Muller said, is the district's current budget cycle.
"We're at a point where we're facing a flat and possibly declining student enrollment," Muller said, adding that "going into this budget cycle is the most immediate challenge we face."
For Muller, the transition with the district's outgoing superintendent, Dr. Jim Hawkins, has been fairly smooth. Muller has, afterall, worked alongside Hawkins for nearly four years, since Muller was recruited to the district by Hawkins' predecessor, Dr. Charlie Patterson.
"Both (Hawkins and Patterson) were committed to the district. I feel like they passed that along to me," Muller said, explaining that although he's always been committed to working hard, commitment is deeply tied to superintendency in the KISD.
Love what you do
Regardless, Muller's and KISD's future remains bright. Muller doesn't know whether the board of trustees will name him the next superintendent, nor is he worried about it.
"This is a great district with great people who work in it. I have a general feeling that education is what I was meant to do," Muller said, adding "if you're not having fun you burn out too soon."
Contact Iuliana Petre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.