Whitehall High School will welcome a new principal next academic year, as former Fremont High School assistant principal Brett Westerlund was tabbed out of an applicant pool of about two dozen to replace retiring Dale McKenzie. The school announced the hiring on its Facebook page last week.
Westerlund is very familiar with the Whitehall area. He and wife Ashley live in Whitehall, and their two kids, daughter Claire and son Quinn, both attend Whitehall schools. Prior to taking his job in Fremont, Brett had been an assistant girls basketball coach at Whitehall, alongside his brother, varsity coach Derek.
Brett described the Whitehall job, which will be his first as a principal, as the one job that could have lured him away from Fremont, where he had a good experience. He credited Fremont superintendent Ken Haggart and principal Scott Sherman as being supportive throughout his time there and through the process of getting the job at Whitehall.
“I’ve always been a dedicated teacher and administrator at Fremont the past couple of years, and I’ve been committed to my job and my career, and now I’m looking forward to being able to share those things with my family,” Westerlund said. “In the past I’d go to Fremont stuff by myself, and now I’ll have the opportunity to support our kids at school and our teams and our programs and be able to take my kids with me, and that will be cool for all of us.”
Whitehall superintendent Jerry McDowell said that despite having to conduct the search virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process went well. He said that the district whittled down its initial candidate list to six, and of those six, Westerlund stood out at every turn.
“Every time we talked with him, he was consistent, he was humble,” McDowell said of Westerlund. “He talked about teacher leadership. He’s a strong leader instructionally...He appeared to be really insightful to the needs of teachers and students. He delivered an approach that we thought would be beneficial to our community.”
Westerlund said the fact that the search was conducted virtually actually made it easier to meet with all the people making the decision than it might have been otherwise.
“With doing things online, it was easier to get in front of the entire staff, the office staff and administrative team,” Westerlund said. “In the past, before COVID, you had a hiring committee that might have 10 people on it, then the next round might have a different 10. In this process, most of the staff were able to see me and be part of the interview process, which I thought was pretty cool.”
Of course, Westerlund was familiar with many of the Whitehall staff from his time on the girls basketball staff, as well as from his kids’ experiences at Whitehall schools. Those relationships only made him more impressed with the school.
“It’s an awesome place,” Westerlund said. “During the interview process, I got to meet and get to know a few more people. Everyone talks about how great the staff is, and it built my desire to be part of not just the Whitehall community, but specifically Whitehall High School.”
McKenzie, the outgoing principal, doesn’t know Westerlund closely, although he anticipated being a resource for him as he transitioned into the new job. He did say Brett’s ability to build relationships makes him an ideal fit for the principal position.
“I’m a huge advocate of this being a people business,” McKenzie said. “You have to be able to relate and work with individuals you encounter. In the end, you want what’s best for the kids. He has that personality. He’ll continue to grow and make Whitehall High School a better place.”
“I’m looking forward to working with Dale as I transition into the role,” Westerlund said. “Big shoes to fill, but I think he’s made it easier by the culture that he’s created.”