Throughout my fifteen plus years in the district, there is one question that is consistently asked of me. This question has been asked by parents, opposing coaches, fellow principals, and even family.
“What makes Westlake so unique?”
My answer is what I call the "Westlake Mystique". It is the day to day interactions between our students, students to staff, and staff to staff. Our kids treat each other more positively than on most, if not almost all, campuses in Texas. Students treat each other with a level of respect that I did not see when I was at Austin High nor while I was spending time in Kingwood and Duncanville schools. It is not a perfect environment, but it is an exceptional environment.
We are just different. Our kids study in the stands between games at tournaments. Our kids are gracious to their teachers. Our kids are highly responsive to campus expectations. Our kids FaceTime into classes when they are home sick. Our teachers use technology to teach and make contact with students when they are home with the flu. Our students thank referees after games. Our students thank UIL judges after regional and state competitions. Our students constantly look for ideas on ways to reach all students through our clubs. Our students achieve at the highest levels while respecting their peers from other teams and groups. Our students pick up after themselves at breakfast and lunch. Our students even thank our assistant principals after visits about discipline and attendance.
There was an event that happened this past Monday that showed our unique student response to an event that could have led to “mayhem” at other campuses. Our electricity went out on the main campus for about twenty minutes. Our admin team went to the classrooms on our main campus to give an update as we sorted out how long the electricity may be out. As we walked into the rooms, we were once again, reminded about our unique culture. Students were using their cell phones and iPADs as light sources to keep on learning. Our students, unprompted, found a way to keep on keeping on! Discussions continued. Labs continued. We also were asked how the students could help us during this outage. We were also thanked for checking on them in their rooms. After I made the announcement that everything was back to normal, I was thanked between passing periods and during lunches for keeping us safe. That one small window is the latest example of our unique campus!
Please be sure to read the following Teacher Feature, highlighting Mrs. Jackie Compean.
It’s always a great day to be a Chaparral!
Minds in Motion
Westlake High School is lucky to have Mrs. Compean on staff. This is her 10th year in the classroom! She has 3 daughters, and spends all her spare time engaging in the joys of motherhood - driving them to sports and helping with homework. Growing up Mrs. Compean had a love of nature and human biology, and she loves sharing this passion with her students.
In the classroom her favorite thing to do is interact with her students. Her motto is: “a quiet room is a boring room”. Based on this she works hard creating engaging activities for her students where they can interact with their peers and the natural world. On an average day in Mrs. Compean’s room you will see students working in groups actively discussing biological concepts, and sharing their excitement for science.
Right before winter break 9th graders wrapped up their study of cytology, the study of cells. Mrs. Jackie Compean had students investigate cell processes in creative ways.
Video 1 (Drawing) created by
M. Szoo, R. Ireland, C. Halverson, and S. Wu.
Video 2 (Clay) created by
H. Didilake, E. Wood, D. Gourlay, and C. Bost.
During my classroom visits a few Fridays ago, I was struck by the number of students who enjoy the learning process with their teachers. Oddly enough, students would be smiling while a teacher was demonstrating/solving an upper level physics problem, while watching students presentations in Spanish or while watching me squirm when asked about Organic Chemistry (I always defer these to my wife who makes me look rather smart). I just returned to my desk after watching the Thursday, 7th Period, passing period from the Commons where I noticed the abundance of smiles all around. Smiles are a great way to check on the health of students and staff on a campus. This is one expression that is very difficult to hide and mask. At least for right now, we are having a fine day at Westlake High School. One of my goals is to have our students and staff smile when asked about their day to day experience at WHS. It’s always a great day to be a ……………….! I bet you just smiled a little completing that sentence.
Please be mindful of the following brief articles as supplied to us by our SEL folks.
Parents and Teachers of the Chaps:
This semester we will be concentrating on one competency per month. This month we will focus on Self-Awareness and Reflection.
Self-Awareness/Reflection TIP 1: In order to help your Chap practice better self-regulation skills and become more self-aware, “discuss ways to prioritize and sequence” electronic communication. Multitasking may interfere with performance. Helping your child develop strategies to prioritize electronic communication can reduce interruptions and support the growth of executive functioning skills. “Executive Functioning Activities for Adolescents”, provides “suggestions for helping teens practice better self-regulation throughout the daily challenges they face”. Click HERE for more on this. And HERE for an article from Harvard's Center for the Developing Child.
Self-Awareness/Reflection TIP 2: Help your teenager develop good study skills by teaching your child (the following is an excerpt from “Regulating the Teenage Mind”):
January is the time that we kick off selecting courses for the next school year. We are always looking to improve our processes, so we want to update you on some of our new approaches. One of our main goals is for our students to have direct contact with their counselors. Over the next week, our counselors will be visiting with our 9th, 10th and 11th graders in their classrooms to discuss course selection and other items. We will then follow-up with an email that will give you and your student all of the resources necessary to make great decisions. Katie Bryant, one of our student support counselors, has chosen to write the following message focused on courses for you. Katie has been on our campus for 10 years and she has worked with all types of students and families. “Thank you!” to Katie for taking the time to share her own reflection.
It has been a great couple of weeks back. We are now approaching the busy season that has to do with course selection for next year. Being thoughtful as you and your child discuss classes for next year is important for several reasons. The most important reason is that we are really hoping that students are spending time to really look at all their commitments in addition to the classes they are selecting. Many of our students are involved with many other activities outside of the school day. Finding a healthy balance can be hard when you and/or your child does not want to give anything up. It is extremely important that our students have time to just be kids. “Play time” is extremely important and necessary at any age. Over the years research continues to tell us how important family dinners are. How often is that happening in your home? We also know how important sleep is. Our students report an average of 6 hours per night when we know that they need at least 8-10 hours.
In an effort to help our students challenge themselves appropriately while making sure they have a healthy lifestyle, we urge students and parents to use the newly created Course Hours sheet and Time Management form when selecting new classes. These will both be available to you in the Course Selection book.
The Course Hours sheet provides an estimate of how many hours outside of class a student will need to devote to that class to be successful. These numbers are an estimate. Recognize that the time a student spends on homework will vary based upon student preparedness, student focus and effort, learning/study habits, homework environment, age, developmental stage, etc.
The Time Management form allows students to enter total estimated homework time for all their courses, along with estimated times for extra-curricular activities and daily living activities, including sleep. I meet with students a lot who are anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that they must get done. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. We often see that dropping the level of just one course or giving up one commitment can make a huge difference in the overall well-being of the student.
We are very excited about these new resources and hope that you will find them useful. Do not hesitate to reach out to myself or another counselor. We are more than happy to talk with your child and discuss all of the options. Sometimes decisions can be hard to make so talking it out with an unbiased person can often help. We can always do a pros and cons list. Such a simple tool can really outline where your child's priorities, wants and desires are that aren't always expressed when debating if they should take a certain course or drop an activity.
The second reason that being mindful when selecting courses is for staffing. We build the master schedule and assign staff based on what students sign up for. The assumption cannot be that, “well, the student can just drop the course if it is too hard.” Many times we can make that happen but not always. We also work very hard to balance classes which can be difficult. We always do our best to accommodate the student but every year I meet with stressed out students and parents that get “stuck” with a schedule because they had assumed that they could just switch the class.
Know what is best for YOUR child. For your child, one advanced course may be just as stressful and time consuming as five APs for another. And that’s OK. There are very few college students who take five courses at a time, so perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect a high school student to do the same. Remember that most all of us could use better balance in our lives. Modeling what balance looks like is a great way for our kids to know what that truly looks like.
And just in case you want some more information, I encourage you to look at the information on the Healthy Chaps page. There is a wealth of information there, specifically here on APs and mindfulness.
It’s always a great day to be a Chaparral!
We would like to officially welcome you back to the second semester of the 2016-2017 school year at Westlake High School. For our seniors and senior parents, the year 2017 takes on its special meaning-it is graduation time! We will have plenty more to say about all of the events surrounding all of our classes as we move from January to the end of the school year in May. Summer will be here in a short 19 weeks. Yes, only nineteen more school weeks for our seniors. Take three deep breaths senior parents-we will all get there together.
If you notice your student is a little sluggish this week, one of my main messages is that the fatigue is for real for these first two weeks upon our return to campus. The return to the school routine can be quite a jolt for our students as they return from winter break. Unlike the fall where there is a start which leads to many new events for each grade level of students, the month of January signals the beginning of the previous routine in many ways. Throw in the new expectation that the holidays are a draining and exhausting time for our country and you have a less than enthusiastic return to school. Then, one can add in the Cedar Fever aspect of Austin, and we are all feeling a little worn out. After being in classrooms and the hallways this week, it appears we are adjusting slowly to being back. From being on this campus for many years, this is part of the normal rhythm. The arrival of the three day weekend next week serves as a stimulus to get us all feeling a little more excited and exuberant. Please be mindful of your student’s health during this time of extreme weather changes and spending more time inside with each other and our germs.
Congratulations to our band students and directors on their march in the Rose Bowl Parade. This was truly a once in a lifetime event for our students and great memories for all involved!
We would like to welcome a new member to our staff in our school resource program. Our school resource officers are 2 Travis County Sheriff’s Office Deputies. Joining Deputy Peals and Bouldin will be our new safety dog, Abby. Abby will be a daily member of our safety team. Abby’s handler will be Deputy Brian Peals who will now be wearing the new green canine uniform of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Abby is the first canine assigned to our campus.
Our friends at Lake Travis have had a canine unit through Travis County for several decades as well. We look forward to Abby helping to make this the safest and healthiest environment possible for our students and staff. While Abby may be cute, please remember that she is a working dog. Please do not pet or approach Abby unless given permission by Deputy Peals.
As always, it’s always a great day to be a Chaparral!
Steve Ramsey: WHS Principal Blog
Principal's Weekly Reflections