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History of Westbury High School

 

Beginning Years - 1961 through 2010

Westbury High School has been through many changes since it opened its doors for the first time in the fall of 1961.  The three-story building with its main entrance facing Gasmer Street housed the administrative offices, classrooms, a cafeteria, an auditorium, library and a gym.  The grounds were bare, no trees or grass greeted the first classes on opening day.  To the right of the building, at the corner of Chimney Rock and Gasmer Streets, stood “The Company Store,” a hardware store.

Westbury’s 1961 enrollment consisted of 813 students - seniors, juniors, sophomores coming from Bellaire, Lamar, and San Jacinto High Schools, and freshmen coming from Johnston Jr High School.  After the first year, there would not be a freshman class until the late 70’s.  Of that first year’s class, 58 seniors received their diplomas in the Westbury High School auditorium.

Shading the school was the water tower that served the Westbury neighborhood.  Mary Beth Kulp and Donna Harkness, the editors of the first yearbook, imagined the water tower as a silent citadel watching over the students, teachers, and administrators as they busied themselves with the task of transferring from one generation to the next the culture of the western world.  They imagined the water tower thinking as it looked down on the school.  “I, the majestic water tower beside it, hear its name and feel a part of it.”  The metaphor of the water tower as citadel became the title of Westbury’s yearbook.  The students became the “Westbury Rebels”.

Mr. W. I. “Jim” Burns was Westbury’s first principal.  A lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Mr. Burns had taught chemistry at San Jacinto and Lamar High Schools and had opened Bellaire High School as assistant principal.  The principal of Bellaire, Mr. Harland Andrews, complained that all of his good teachers wanted to transfer to Westbury so they could work under Mr. Burns.  Many of the first staff members did, indeed, follow Mr. Burns from Bellaire High School.  Among them were Westbury’s first assistant principal, Mr. Kenneth Gupton, and the dean, Mrs. Rivers Lodge.  Mrs. Lodge became assistant principal in 1970.

There were 73 teachers that first year.  The curriculum included not only the academic courses -- math, science, English and foreign language; but also the fine arts--music and art, speech, drama, journalism, home economics; the commercial subjects---typing, business machines, and business law; the industrial arts--mechanical drawing--architectural drawing, woodshop and metal shop; drivers education, physical education and the National Defense Cadet Corps.

In the early 1960’s Westbury had no air conditioning, just fans.  “Temporary” classroom buildings were brought in.  As the years passed, trees were planted; the grass grew, and Westbury’s student body flourished.  Air conditioning was installed in the late 1960’s and in the early 1970’s, a three-story classroom wing was added to the east side of the school building to accommodate the growth.

The “Company Store” was purchased by the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and was converted to the Oceanography/Living Resource Center to provide oceanography education and biological material for the district’s science classes.  Later the oceanography was phased out and it became the Living Resource Center (known affectionately as the “Frog Farm” around Westbury).  Mr. LeRoy Hardy, the center’s director, was one of the original science teachers at Westbury.

Mr. W. L. Burns died of a heart attack in the summer of 1966.  Mr. John Brandstetter served as the interim principal until Mr. Kenneth Gupton was appointed principal in 1967.  In memory of Mr. Burns, Westbury established the W. L. Burns Award to honor academic excellence.  Each May the students deemed best by each department are honored in an impressive formal assembly.  Award winners receive the distinctive W.L. Burns Award trophy, modeled from the permanent trophy situated in the foyer outside the auditorium.  The symbolism of the trophy “darkness into light...ignorance into learning...” and the noble words of its inscription, “Esse quam videre,” meaning “to be, rather than to seem” emphasize the essence of Westbury academic achievement.   

The Friends of Westbury High School Foundation, organized in 1992, adopted the W.L. Burns trophy as the Foundation’s logo.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s brought many changes to the world which was mirrored in the Westbury student body.  Like students on college and high school campuses throughout the United States, Westbury students campaigned against issues pertaining to long hair and skirt lengths. The 1970’s were the period of the greatest rivalry between Westbury and its arch rival, Bellaire High School, a rivalry that stemmed from the opening of the school when so many former Bellaire teachers and students became “Westburyites.”  Bellaire Week, and its high point, the football game against Bellaire were bigger events than Homecoming.  Both schools tried to outdo one another in mischief. The Bird Boys would steal “Johnny Reb”; The Rebel Guards would steal “The Scarlet Cluck”. Then there was the time John Couch (class of 1976) egged Bellaire in the one-and-only attack of the Rebel Air Force.  As a result, John, unfortunately, found himself in trouble with the FAA.

Academic excellence remained important to the students of the 1970’s, who were, for the most part, all college-bound.  Westbury graduates went on to schools like MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Rice, University of Texas and Texas A&M.  Many became professionals, doctors, attorneys, psychologists; many majored in business and entered the corporate world.  Their goal was success.  The 1980’s brought more changes.  Principal Kenneth Gupton who so ably led Westbury in the late 1960’s and 1970’s retired in the early 1980’s to be replaced by Mr. Tom Davis. 

One of the great men in the history of Westbury, Mr. Louis Evans, died of a heart attack in 1983 and the metal shop was closed forever.  Tom Davis said, “Where can we find the three people to replace him?”  When Mr. Davis resigned in 1985, he was replaced by Mr. Bill Morgan.  Mr. Morgan brought in Mr. Mike Falsone to start an auto shop in the old metal shop facility.   Mr. Morgan remained principal until 1989, when he was named as assistant superintendent.  Dr. Shirley Johnson became principal of Westbury in March, 1989.

Mr. Richard Simmons, who came to Westbury as a science teacher in 1964-65 school years, became assistant principal in 1981 and retired in 1994 after serving 30 dedicated years.   Dr. Sarah Steelman came to Westbury in 1961 as a physical education teacher, later became assistant principal and retired in 1988.  An award for the “most outstanding girl athlete is given each year in honor of Dr. Sarah Steelman.  The “Humanitarian” award is given each year in honor of Mr. Chet Smith who started “senior awards day” -- recognizing various accomplishments students have made during their four years at Westbury.  Mr. Smith came to Westbury in 1970 to teach English, and then became a counselor, then assistant principal through 1988. 

In the 1980’s Westbury became one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country.  In the 1990’s the school has an even more diverse student body.  Today’s “Rebels” speak thirty different languages.  Palestinians and Israelis rub elbows in the halls.  Christians, Jews, Hindus, Moslems, and Buddhists move from class to class together.  African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Anglos share classes and extracurricular activities.  Westbury is a microcosm of America and the world.

Part of the symbolism of Westbury High School has always been the Rebel. Originally, the confederate flag was the battle flag.  The School’s institutions - The Rebel Yell, The Citadel, the Rebel Band, and the Rebelettes all reflected this there.  These symbols are what many alumni remember -- along with the many kidnappings of Johnny Reb (the statue) and the consequent vengeance (the kidnappings of the Cardinal and the Marlin).  But in time, the flag which came from history became part of Westbury’s history, but the idea of the Rebel instinct remained.

As the social consciousness of the world grew, so did the social consciousness of the Westbury student body.  Letters to the editor of the student newspaper, The Rebel Yell, called on the school to change the school’s mascot, Johnny Reb to a symbol that would offend no one.  Some students felt that having a mascot was ridiculous; the majority felt school traditions were important to the identity of the school and the student.  In recognition of that diversity, Westbury’s student body proposed that Johnny Reb be changed to a zany little character mascot, although they still wanted to be the “Westbury Rebels.”  In the general election, students selected the final version from several designs submitted by students.  The new mascot represents what the Westbury student is --- a composite of all, black, brown, and white, full of spunk, determination, and good humor.  The students like him, he’s their creation.

In the early 1980’s a new vocations wing and a new gym were added to the southeast side of the school. Westbury has been more successful than most schools in meeting the needs of a diverse student body.   In 1984 Westbury became one of the ten charter schools of the Coalition of Essential Schools, which was formed by Dr. Ted Sizer of Brown University.  The Coalition of Essential Schools focuses on nine principles that are the basis of academic excellence, including enabling students to use their minds well, the mastery of essential skills and areas of knowledge, and making students workers rather than passive recipients.  With the emphasis on patience, expectation, and decency, the philosophy of the Coalition Schools is that the school’s goals should apply to all students.  The ninth and tenth grade students are now members of teams.  The core teachers work together to enable them to succeed through more personalization, through integrated curriculum, and through greater interaction with parents.  Academic excellence and the attainment of the skills necessary to achieve in the twenty-first century are the driving goals.

In 1992 Westbury became a mentor school for the state.  Representatives from schools throughout the United States who realize that they must change in order to assure the success of their students come to Westbury to listen and observe. Another change in 1992, due to loss of funding from HISD, the Rebelettes drill team, under the direction of Melodye Holland Montgomery, (class of 1972), became a dance team.   The Band-Aides merged with the Rebelettes to become the “Westbury Brigade.”  They performed as a group with the Westbury Rebel Band.  The Westbury Band continues its tradition by holding the “Annual Spaghetti Dinner” in November each year.

In 1992, the Friends of Westbury High School Foundation, Inc. was established as a non-profit, tax exempt corporation. The Foundation’s mission: raise funds for scholarships for WHS graduating students, provide funding for continuing education for teachers and the enhancement of Westbury High School.

The 1992-93 school year saw the completion of yet another wing to the southwest side of the building.  Westbury’s school front now faced Chimney Rock, with a new address of 11911 Chimney Rock.  This new addition provided a new, larger, and well-equipped library, dedicated the “Kenneth Gupton Library.”  Mr. Gupton passed away in 1997.  This addition also provided several state-of-the-art laboratories for chemistry and physics, academic classrooms for upper-class students, and a new administrative office suite.

At the start of the 1993 school year, the campus grounds were bare, no grass or trees.  This too changed.  In March 1994 the Friends of WHS Foundation received a $15,000 matching grant from the Texas Forest Service and planted over 100 trees around the campus and the Foundation initiated the beginning of the school’s “Brick Walk of Fame.”  Also in 1994, the Friends of WHS Foundation awarded their first $500 scholarship to a Westbury High graduating senior.

In 1993, Westbury added the Air Force Junior ROTC for boys and girls under the leadership of Retired Colonel James Epps.  Westbury was the first school to offer this program.  In 1994 Westbury’s Mill & Cabinet Shop (woodshop) was enlarged and renovated.  Mr. R. Brochstein, CEO of Brochstein’s Inc. donated $500,000 worth of equipment. A new “state-of-the-art” Auto Mechanic Shop equipped with computerized equipment was also built.  Many students, under the direction of woodshop instructor Bobby Tappin, and students under the direction of auto mechanic instructor Michael Falsone, have competed and won many awards for their talents. 

In August 1996, Elodia Flores Hough replaced Dr. Johnson as principal and in June 1999, Ivy Levingston became Westbury’s seventh new principal with an administrative staff and faculty of approximately 150, and approximately 2400 students organized in three houses.  Each house had its own assistant principal, counselors and office suite.  Through the house system the assistant principals and counselors are able to work with the same students throughout their stay at Westbury.  A Gifted and Talented (GT) program and an excellent Career and Technology program (formerly known as vocational education) were added. 

In 1998 Westbury was selected to be a site for a SPARK Park. The SPARK School Park Program, a non-profit organization based in Houston, helps public schools develop their playgrounds into community parks.  However, the proposed project at Westbury was not the traditional park, but a significant upgrading of the running track around the existing practice football field.  Sources of funding included Houston ISD, the local community, the private sector, and federal community development funds.  The Westbury SPARK Park “state of the art” track was built in June, 2000.

In 2001, HISD began revitalizing the Westbury Gasmer wing when structural problems were discovered.  Structural engineers determined the building was unsafe and had to be demolished. HISD purchased an apartment complex behind the high school, tore it down and brought in temporary buildings to house students and teachers from the Gasmer wing. Plans for building a new addition to the south side of Westbury High School began. A beautiful atrium front 2-story building design was selected, constructed and completed in 2004.  During this time, a change in principals occurred; Eric Coleman, AP at Westside HS moved to Westbury High.  Again more changes occurred – Hurricane Rita struck and an influx of people from Louisiana to Houston meant additional students for Westbury.  Enrollment increased and suddenly the school was overcrowded.

In 2004, planning began for a separate Westbury 9th grade Academy, a first for HISD.  Temporary buildings were brought back in and placed on the vacant property.  A complete staff consisting of the principal, assistant principal, counselors and teachers were assigned. By January 2006, the 9th grade students moved into the temporary 9th grade buildings. March 2009, HISD purchased, from the City of Houston, the 11000 block of Burdine Street, making the street now part of the Westbury High campus.

At the beginning of the school year 2010, another change in principals occurred – Andrew T. Wainright joined the staff at Westbury.  Mr. Wainright was a Bellaire 19__ Bellaire graduate.  It’s now the beginning of 2011-12 school year and a few changes in staff and classes have occurred.  Unfortunately with budget cuts, he has had to cut the Mill and Cabinet Shop, but is working at Westbury becoming a Fine Arts Magnet Academy.

Through the past 19 years, the Friends of WHS Foundation strides in supporting the school and awarding scholarships.  Over $150,000 has been raised for scholarships and has had a tremendous affect in many Westbury High students lives. Beginning in 1994- the Foundation awarded the first $500 scholarship -in April, 1999, the first $1,000 scholarship was awarded.  Then in April 2008, the Foundation increased the value of the scholarships to $1,500 and awarded fifteen (15), in April, 2009 – sixteen (16), April, 2010, nineteen (19) $1,500 scholarships and May, 2011, eighteen $1,500 scholarships  were awarded making a grand total of 153 scholarships awarded. 

Update - July 2010, Andrew “Tim” Wainright, 1989 Bellaire graduate took over the helm of Westbury High School as principal.     

The water tower no longer stands like a citadel over the school.  It was torn down in the summer of 1993, but the cement foundation remains and a new flag pole was installed in the middle with a beautiful mosaic “W”tile surrounding the area. HISD relocated the Living Resource Center (the Frog Farm) to another location, and the Westbury campus has a new Westbury Environmental Nature Park at the corner of Chimney Rock & Gasmer Streets – renamed the “Rita Woodward Environmental Nature Park” and dedicated in honor of Mrs. Woodward in 2008. Since 1998 Mrs. Woodward, founder of the Friends of Westbury High School Foundation, has given her time and talent to the improvement of Westbury High School.

Westbury alumni have grown from 58 students in 1962 to over 22,000 graduates. The idea of the citadel remains, only now the school is itself the citadel!  Behind Westbury High School a 280-acre park is being constructed to be completed by the year 2014.  And, more changes for Westbury High School and the community are “in the works.” Stay tuned!

 

Biography was written in three stages: 1962-1992 – by Gary Weibye & Jerry Gaines, former WHS teachers; 1993-2001- Jerry Gaines, Kathleen Tinsley Ownby, WHS ’67 and Rita Woodward; 2002-2011 – Kathleen Tinsley Ownby & Rita Woodward.

Biography was published in the Westbury High School Alumni Directory 3rd Edition, September 2009, Harris Connect, Publisher.

 

 
 

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