Our Founder: Rita Woodward ( 1927-2013)
RITA: Relentless Insightful Thoughtful Amazing
Rita grew up on the SE side of Houston and graduated from Milby HS in 1944. She married, had 4 children ( 3 of whom who graduated from Westbury) and then divorced, leaving her to raise her children on her own. She had to go to work and spent the next twenty years working for the City and ultimately with the late Councilmember Eleanor Tinsley. She retired from the City in 1987 to raise a granddaughter who would also graduate from Westbury.
In 1992 Rita began to tirelessly give back to a school and a community she had been unable to contribute much to due to life’s demands. Rita not only founded the FWHS Foundation in 1992, spearheading hundreds of thousands of dollars towards support for student scholarships, teachers and large school projects; the most notable being the Auto Tech Program and facility at Westbury; she was a true community activist.
Rita fought hard to clean up the area around the high school. She strongly supported Police Storefronts in the area and was instrumental in laying the ground work for the Willow Waterhole Project.
Rita wanted the kids in Westbury to have a community that was safe, supportive and family friendly. Her dream was to see the Westbury area return to a strong family community again. There wasn’t a meeting, community event, function or gala that took that she wasn’t campaigning for the students of WHS.
Rita said Eleanor Tinsley taught her not only how, but inspired her, to fight for and give back to the community. Eleanor had a group of close volunteers named the “Turtle Team”. This name came from Eleanor’s belief that “You can only get things done when you stick your neck out.”
Credit: Chereze Therkildsen, one of Rita’s 4 children, wanted to share a little background and give a glimpse into what made up this fierce, determined, tenacious, compassionate incredible woman of a mere 4’10” frame. This history is a portion of her speech from a past gala .
Our School: Westbury High School
Westbury High School (WHS) 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. 1961 enrollment consisted of 813 students – seniors, juniors, and sophomores coming from Bellaire, Lamar, and San Jacinto High Schools, and freshmen coming from Johnston Jr High. After the first year, there would not be a freshman class until the late 1970s. Of that first year's class, 58 seniors received their diplomas in the WHS auditorium.
In 2020, there were 2,400 students: 64% Hispanic; 32% African American; 2% Asian; 2% White.
There were 73 teachers in first year. The curriculum included the academic courses—math, science, English and foreign language; 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 1960s 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 1960s and in the early 1970s, 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 as the "Frog Farm" around Westbury). That too was razed and on February 14, 2008 the district named the now empty greenspace “Rita Woodward Environmental Nature Park”.
On May 18, 2001, the main education building was declared unsafe; renovation crews discovered that the concrete, intended to measure at 3,000 pounds per square inch, instead measured at 1,400 to 2,000 pounds per square inch. A new building was completed in the fall of 2004 with more done after the 2012 bond. Soon, by 2020, only the auditorium will remain from the original campus.
A 2007 Johns Hopkins University/Associated Press study referred to Westbury as a "dropout factory" where at least 40% of the entering freshman class do not make it to their senior year. During that year 41% of high-school-age children zoned to Westbury chose to attend a different HISD school. In 2009 its graduation rate was 67.4%. In 2017 it increased to 84.8%[
In 2010 HISD acquired two apartment complexes in poor condition in order to expand the campus.
In 2011 the Brays Oaks Management district expanded and Westbury High School became a part of the district.
In 2013, the school changed its mascot from the Westbury Rebels to the Westbury Huskies.
As part of the 2012 Bond the school received a $48 million renovation that replaced the temporary buildings that once housed the 9th grade academy, added tennis courts and a new 30,000 sq foot wing along with baseball and softball fields and a $6.2 million new fine arts wing. Area residents were told that HISD would acquire two more apartment complexes to further expand Westbury, but later HISD trustees changed their votes to not acquire them.
The future looks bright for Westbury High School. Once facing shutdown from the TEA, it scored just one point away from a B at the end of the 2018 school year. The school is now a state of the art 21st century school situated near the banks of the 300 acre Willow Waterhole Greenspace. There is a new baseball and softball complex; beautiful new tennis courts, a track and a football practice field as well as soccer fields. WHS is a magnet school for the Performing and Visual Arts Program; where their jazz and band programs have excelled. The Career in Technology education department has an award winning Auto shop program; a fire fighter academy; STEM, Business IT and Health sciences program. There is a vibrant ROTC and NHS program. And, of course, rigorous academic courses.