Liberty Hill ISD ConnectED Magazine / Summer 2020

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A Liberty Hill ISD Publication



Issue One | Summer 2020

Summer 2020

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A Letter from Superintendent Steve Snell Strategic Plan LHISD Board of Trustees The 2020 COVID-19 Impact: District Team Answers the Call

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The 2020 COVID-19 Impact on LHISD


LHHS Class of 2020: Valedictorian Shantika Ramsingh


LHHS Class of 2020: Salutatorian Sutton Landers-Carlyon

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From Best to First: LHHS Robotics Never Stops

LHHS Class of 2020: Overcoming All Odds, Liberty Hill Seniors Go Out With A Bang

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A Bond Between District, Voters Health & Science Careers Thrive at LHHS LHISD Profile: Rachel Dawson Life Coach: Liberty Hill Coaches About More Than Building Athletes Liberty Hill Alumni Profile: Kimberly de la Houssaye LHISD Fast Facts Meet the LHISD Police Department Liberty Hill Alumni Profile: Aubrey & Jason Covington A Liberty Hill ISD Publication


Issue One | Summer 2020



Brylee Brantley celebrates during a senior parade through downtown Liberty Hill. PHOTO BY ALEX RUBIO

CONNECTED MAGAZINE | A Publication of The Liberty Hill Independent Newspaper for the Liberty Hill Independent School District PUBLISHER | Shelly Wilkison MANAGING EDITOR | Mike Eddleman CONTRIBUTING EDITOR | Kristy Kercheville, LHISD Director of Communications PUBLICATION DESIGN & ADVERTISING | Stacy Coale WRITERS | Mike Eddleman, Scott Akanewich, Anthony Flores, Rachel Madison PHOTO CONTRIBUTIONS | Alex Rubio, Anthony Flores, Mike Eddleman, LHISD For advertising rates and information, or to obtain additional copies, call (512) 778-5577 or send email to Find more information about the Liberty Hill Independent School District at Copyright ©2020 The Liberty Hill Independent All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the Publisher. The Liberty Hill Independent, PO Box 1235, Liberty Hill, TX 78642


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

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We are excited to share with you our first ever ConnectEd Magazine. This is an exciting time in Liberty Hill ISD. Liberty Hill is one of the fastest-growing school districts in Texas. With that growth comes exciting challenges for our school district. We embrace those challenges and we continue to be one of the highest performing districts statewide. Last year, Liberty Hill earned an “A” from the Texas Education Agency for the second consecutive year. Even though we are high performing, we believe that our students are more than a test score and strive each day to make sure we educate the whole child and do everything we can to make sure they reach the maximum potential through our schools.

The vision of Liberty Hill ISD is “Building Champions in Academics, Character and Community”. This continues to be our WHY as we strive to build a championship culture where our teachers and students are empowered to make Liberty Hill ISD the best district in the state of Texas and a school district that goes beyond a test and prepares them to have a competitive advantage for whatever they choose to do beyond high school. In the spring of 2020, Liberty Hill ISD began a strategic planning process that is helping lead the district into the next few years and will focus on growth, funding and finance, teaching and learning, human capital, and culture. The committee includes the board of trustees, district administra-

Dr. Toni Hicks Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum, Instructions & Assessment


Brad Mansfield Assistant Superintendent, Student & Operational Services

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

tors, staff and over 30 community members and parents. This process will be all-encompassing of the community. Action teams have been created from the main group and have recruited more participants. When the process is complete we hope to have over 150 different people working together to make Liberty Hill ISD the best school district in the state. In August 2020, Liberty Hill ISD is excited to open Santa Rita Elementary School in the Santa Rita South neighborhood. This will be our fourth elementary school. LHISD will begin the process of transition to four elementary schools — a process that has included redrawing boundary lines, staffing each campus and communicating as we move into the registration process and next year’s school planning. In August of 2021, Liberty Hill ISD will open a new middle school close to the intersection of Ronald Reagan and State Highway 29. Design teams comprised of teachers and other staff have worked diligently toward the design of this middle school. The district architects have revealed renderings of the new campus and construction has started. When the new school opens, we will transition fifth grade to the elementary schools and sixth grade to the two middle schools. As we continue to grow, we will need to expand the high school. Design teams have also worked in discussion for the addition of classrooms and other areas to increase the capacity of the high school to 2,100 students. These plans include adding classrooms and revamping elective classrooms to meet the needs of various programs. This year, we are very excited about the creation of a new Liberty Hill Education Foundation. This group will work to raise money to support teachers and innovative ideas through grants, learning opportunities, and

Rosanna Guerro Chief Financial Officer

Bob Mabry

Director of Human Resources

scholarships. They are off to a great start. I appreciate the support from our volunteer groups such as PTO, Booster Clubs, Panther Parent Organizations, Watch D.O.G.S., and the volunteers who help our staff and read to our students. We also cannot reach our goals without the encouragement and support our families are providing at home. We have had an interesting year adjusting to school closures with COVID-19 and are so very thankful for the support of our parents and the entire Panther community. We also plan to meet the challenges of the coming year as we build on our strengths and resources to continue to enhance this community of Panthers. Again, this is a very exciting time in Liberty Hill ISD and we hope you make plans to work with us to build champions in our district and community. With Great Pride,

Steven Snell Superintendent, Liberty Hill ISD

Kristy Kercheville Director of Communications

Sharif Mezayek Chief of Police



A group of 30 community members, parents, school trustees, and administrative and campus staff met for two days in January for district-wide strategic planning. The group was very passionate about the future of Liberty Hill ISD and the type of school district we aspire to become as we manage growth and leverage resources toward the future. The work was grounded in the beliefs set forth by the Board of Trustees, and the strategic plan was built around 6 Pillars.


LHISD VISION Building Champions in Academics, Character and Community


The mission of Liberty Hill ISD is to build future-ready graduates empowered to be the best version of themselves.



FUNDING AND FINANCE FACILITIES Communications / Community Engagement 8


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• Every child deserves the highest quality education • In the commitment and dedication to educating the whole child • In high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction • In attracting, retaining, and developing an effective and diverse staff • In providing a safe and secure learning environment for students and staff • A unified community - embracing collaborative partnerships with parents - strengthens the education process • A positive culture promotes learning for all stakeholders • Our students should be the basis of all decisions




President Place 1

Place 2

Place 3

Clay Cole is a long-time resident of the Liberty Hill community and has served on the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees for over 12 years, the past seven years as President. He graduated from Liberty Hill High School in 1988 and received a Bachelor of Art in Business Management from Concordia Lutheran University. He is proudly married to Michelle Cole, 7th grade Texas History teacher, and has three children, Chelsea, Carly, and Cade, who all graduated from Liberty Hill ISD. Chelsea (23) graduated from the University of Texas, Carly (20) is attending Tarleton State and Cade (19) attends the Universtiy of Texas. Clay works for the Texas Workforce Commission serving as the Division Director of Unemployment Insurance. He is an active member at Mission Liberty Hill Lutheran Church and a member of the Panther Pit Crew.

David Nix and his family moved to Liberty Hill in 2005 and chose Liberty Hill due to the excellent schools. David’s two children, Allee (2016) and Noah (2018) graduated from Liberty Hill. Allee graduates from Angelo State University in 2020 and will attend Texas Tech Medical School. Noah is a sophomore accounting major at Ole Miss. David received his undergraduate degree from Stephen F. Austin State University and his law degree from the Texas Tech School of Law. David works as the Liability and Property Claims Manager for the Texas Municipal League Risk Pool. David was first elected to the board in 2008 and has served as the Secretary and Vice President of the board. David and his family attend First Baptist Church of Georgetown.

Clint Stephenson is the President of CLS Excavation Inc., Managing Member of Dilley Development, Managing member of Liberty Hill Storage, as well as the current President and Place 1 member of Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees. He earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology degree from Texas Christian University. Clint is also the co-founder of the Panther Pit Crew, which has donated to various organizations, groups, and families in need within the school district. His two children, Tucker and Payton, have benefited from the Liberty Hill community and have attended Liberty Hill schools throughout their school career. He and his wife, Amber, are very active in the community and school activities. Clint and Amber formed a support group for the deaf and hard of hearing, focusing primarily on children, that has helped hundreds of families and children throughout Central Texas as well as the district. He believes that the community has always focused on the development of the child, helping all students experience success and become productive leaders. He feels it is important for the community and the school board to maintain a focus on providing a complete educational experience for children to succeed in becoming the next leader of the community. In his free time, Clint loves to hunt in the fall and spend time with his family and friends either in the mountains of Colorado, or at home in Liberty Hill.

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Vice President Place 4

Place 5

Place 6

Secretary Place 7

Anthony Buck has been on the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees since May 2015, during which he has seen tremendous change and growth in the district. As a result, Anthony supported two separate bond elections to prepare for anticipated growth by building Rancho Sienna Elementary School and two new schools in high growth areas. Anthony and his wife, Robin, have two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth. Both attended LHISD from kindergarten through graduation, and they are now attending University of North Texas and Texas A&M University, respectively. Anthony is currently the Emergency Management Coordinator for a major state agency. Anthony brings to this position over 30 years of experience working in Disaster Response. Anthony is also retired from the US Military where he spent most of his service working in Homeland Security and Civil Defense. His education includes the U.S. Army Infantry School, U.S. Coast Guard Machinery Technician School, U.S. Army Chemical Warfare School, and U.S. Army Battlestaff NCO Academy.

Vickie Peterson has served on the Board of Trustees since 2017 and has lived in the Liberty Hill community for more than 10 years with her husband and their two daughters, both of whom graduated from Liberty Hill High School. Peterson served as an educator for seven years with two of those years as a Business teacher at LHHS where she experienced the Panther spirit firsthand. Peterson also has more than 17 years of professional experience in sales, operations and management in the information technology industry. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development from the University of Texas at Austin. Peterson believes in a Student First approach so that each child has the opportunity to reach their full potential throughout every stage of their learning experience. She is also focused on keeping this the priority while we create and manage our district strategic plan. Peterson ran for school board because she is passionate about the children, teachers and families that are a part of this great community and wants to give back to the district that gave so much to her children and to her own personal and professional development.

Megan Parsons was born in Austin in 1980. She moved to Texarkana in third grade and graduated from Texas High School in 1998. From there, she returned to Austin to attend The University of Texas and graduated in 2001 with a BBA in Finance. She has been married to her husband for 18 years and they have two children. Abby is in eighth grade at Liberty Hill Junior High School and Josh is in fourth grade at Bill Burden Elementary School. Her family has lived in Liberty Hill for 11 years and she coowns a small weighted blanket business with a friend called Best Friend Blankets. She volunteers within the schools, the youth basketball league, the Girl Scouts and also her church. She has been a board member since May 2019 and looks forward to the future of Liberty Hill ISD.

Kathy has been married to Estes Major for 34 years. Both of her children, Kenda and Bradley, are graduates of Liberty Hill High School. She is a member of the Methodist Church. Kathy retired from LHISD serving as teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Her teaching passion is student literacy and writing. She was published several times and presented at various state and national conventions. Originally from Western Michigan, Kathy received her Bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University. She received her Master of Education from the University of Texas at Austin. One of her proudest professional achievements is the record-breaking streak her students and staff earned as District Champions in Academic UIL. Reading, the beach, fishing, volunteering, but most of all cheering for the Liberty Hill Panthers are her hobbies. Go Panthers!


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

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District Team Answers the Call STORY BY Mike Eddleman


wo critical needs immediately challenged the district – technology distribution and food service. Liberty Hill proved up to the challenge, eventually distributing 3,000 devices to students for learning from home, and over the course of more than two months, providing in excess of 30,000 meals. “I’m very, very impressed and proud of the staff,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “Not only because of their effort but because of their attitude. The culture of LHISD has really shined through and everybody did what they had to do, from our police force working 12hour shifts for the County seven days a week, to our nurses who stepped in when needed for the County, to foodservice who did what they had to do to make sure families were fed.” Even in those areas where continued roles amid the shutdown might be more difficult to imagine – such as policing and nursing – Liberty Hill ISD found a way, using those employees to supplement the Williamson County workforce that took on the wider challenge of coping with the pandemic across the county. Two LHISD Police Department’s officers were assigned to help the county for five weeks. “They were helping with security checks and compliance checks all over the county in the beginning of the pandemic,” said LHISD Police Chief Sharif Mezayek. “It is always an honor serve our community and neighboring communities when called on.”


To teach students at home, LHISD teachers needed a way to reach them, and students needed a way to receive, complete and turn in assignments. That challenge fell on the district’s IT department, and while Chief Technology Officer Jay Olivier admitted there was stress on the front end, his team was able to not only ensure every student in the district had a device, but that access and functionality was seamless. “What I always tell


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

people is the IT side of things should never be an obstacle for getting done what you want done,” Olivier said. “In this case it was a huge question mark about what we even had in the homes of our students and what was even available.” The first task was to assess what devices the district could pull together, and provide sup-

port to make sure the technology was there and it would work. “From the very first moment we thought this would be the case, my team and I began planning,” Olivier said. “By putting ourselves out there as quickly as possible and making sure we had the support in place, coordinating with the campuses and Dr. (Toni) Hicks’ team I think we were able to make it seamless.” The department rounded up devices from all over the district, cleaned them up and configured them. When the dust had settled, the district had distributed about


A MEAL PLAN Schools may have been closed, but the need to provide meals to thousands of students every day didn’t end.

3,000 devices, a combination of Chromebooks and iPads. “We were able to repurpose what we already had,” Olivier said. “We had the makings of a (distribution) system in place because we have our one-toone program at the high school. From a check out perspective, we were able to take the basics of that and turn it around for the rest of the district,” Oliver said. A second hurdle was to help determine which students truly had internet access at home, and whether it was reliable. “We were already aware

that we have a subset of our community that doesn’t have internet access at home,” Oliver said. “That’s still an issue we have now because some of Liberty Hill ISD is rural and there’s not an internet option for many of those people. We also earned that just because someone previously reported they have internet access doesn’t mean it’s reliable. A relatively slow connection was great when it was just one person at a time, but when the whole family is working remotely it creates issues.”•

The school district’s Child Nutrition Department and administration went to work immediately when the announcement was made, and had meals ready and waiting the first day as parents drove through with thankful smiles to pick up the bagged breakfasts and lunches. Every child that needed a meal in Liberty Hill received one, and employees stood at the curb daily handing them out with a warm smile and hello. It wasn’t easy, but quick planning and organization made it work as they worked around shortages. “After the first day, the workflow smoothed out greatly,” said Child Nutrition Services Manager Mary Sheffield. “One challenge was determining participation numbers and being creative utilizing food. Short supply of paper items was a challenge. Employees used innovation on packaging meals to overcome these challenges.” The plan had to be implemented, and the dedication and spirit of the food service staff was the secret for Sheffield. “I am amazed at the level of dedication of our employees,” she said. “They have kept high spirits during this difficult time. It is an honor to be their Director of Child Nutrition. The health and safety of our employees, families and students is our utmost priority. They placed the needs of our students at the forefront.” They even got a little help from others around the district. “I would like to thank Lindy Hunter and Maria Rodriguez with transportation and the LHISD Police Department, especially Pat Champion, for their assistance during the meal distribution process,” Sheffield said. “Their dedication was a great help in feeding the students.” Utilizing social distancing, masks and gloves to create a safe environment for families and students, the department was able to serve those 30,000 meals without a setback while keeping everyone safe. “The LHISD and Child Nutrition employees and managers came together in a time of uncertainty and rose to the challenge,” Sheffield said. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their effort to feed our students. Their selfless and tireless actions demonstrate LHISD values and the love for the people of Liberty Hill.” • Story continued on page 16

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Story continued from page 15

COMMUNICATIONS Sharing and gathering information could have been difficult during the pandemic. But because Liberty Hill ISD began recreating its communications strategy last summer, it has reaped some fortuitous rewards as it dealt with this especially unique challenge. “If someone had told me I’d be overseeing a pandemic communications plan I probably would have laughed,” said LHISD Director of Communications Kristy Kercheville, who began her role in June 2019. “I have seen things that probably would have taken us months to initiate or make decisions on happen quickly because of our communications plan, and we were able to respond as needed to COVID.” The expectation of then-new Superintendent Steve Snell to add the Director of Communication role was key to creating a comprehensive communications strategy. “It starts with our leadership. I think he knew, with Liberty Hill growing and at such a fast rate he needed a communications department to help support all our stakeholders,” Kercheville said. From that expectation came a team


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

effort to plan and be ready for anything – even the unknowns of COVID-19. “Our departments and everyone has stepped up, and part of that goes back to last summer after implementing things like the crisis response team,” she said. “With that came a crisis response and communications plan that we successfully used on all the district channels available.” Today, beyond traditional e-mail, the district uses a wide range of social media platforms and communications strategies to reach out to the community. “Community engagement has been truly amazing, and that’s just people wanting to hear more of what’s going on,” she said. “It’s making it available. Social media has been great for dealing with this. We’ve all learned so many new ways to communicate.” •



A SENIOR Moment STORY BY Mike Eddleman | PHOTOS BY Alex Rubio

Finding the best in an unexpected end.


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t first it was a bit of a novelty – an extended Spring Break. But as days turned into weeks, the school closures began to chip away at the annual traditions seniors indulge in as they celebrate the end of high school. And when word came that the Class of 2020 would finish out their high school days on Zoom meetings and focused on social distancing, some of the disappointments set in. “Speaking for the whole class, it is disappointing,” said 2020 Valedictorian Shantika Ramsingh. “Since we were freshmen we’ve looked forward to being seniors and doing all the senior week activities, having graduation practice, early finals, going on our senior trip and all that.” But as soon as the traditional plans began to dissolve, LHISD leaders stepped in to develop new ways to celebrate. “I do have to say even though we’re not having a traditional senior year, I’m really appreciative of all the work Liberty Hill High School and the district staff did to make us still feel loved,” Ramsingh said, singling out a visit from one of her teachers. “When my robotics coach, Mr. Paschal, came and delivered my senior sign and they had all the teachers cheer-

ing us on when we came and got our caps and gowns, those little things really made us feel loved in this time of isolation.” The Class of 2020 accomplished a lot in four years, and no one wanted them to walk away feeling let down. “We wanted to make the month of May special to the seniors,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “I’m a former high school principal so I know the rituals of May, which understandably had to be cancelled this year. At the end of the day, all they wanted was to be able to hang out one more time and say goodbye to each other. The district distributed yard signs to seniors, hosted a cap and gown distribution drive-thru lunch, a senior parade through downtown, and a virtual awards ceremony to make their accomplishment as special as possible. Everyone pitched in, from district staff to school administrators and teachers, along with help from the community wherever it was needed. “It’s important to our kids,” said Tammy Ballard, who teaches speech at the high school. “It is very important to our seniors. As a school district we’ve met them with being creative as we can and came up with different ways we could still show them that life goes on and we are proud of them.” But the abrupt end did make it hard to

The community celebrated the senior class during a parade through downtown.

swallow for those missing final chances to add to their legacy. Many athletes, like Madison Sears who was running track when everything came to an end, did not get to experience the finish she had hoped for. “The hardest part for me about this season ending is just the fact it was so sudden,” said Sears, who also competed in cross country during high school. “Our last meet we got to run wasn’t supposed to be our last meet, but yet it was, so it’s been hard to get closure on that part and just the fact I didn’t know my senior season and whole Liberty Hill running career was going to end when it did, instead of either at district or as far as I could’ve qualified.” Others focused on what silver lining could be found in the experience. “I just had the mindset to make the best of it,” said Salutatorian Sutton Landers-Carlyon. “I took comfort in knowing it was not in my control and there’s nothing I could have done, nothing the school could have done, to avoid a virus like this. It’s nobody’s fault, and in my mind I just wanted to make the best of it.” Lessons will be learned, and in the long run, Bever believes these seniors will be better for the unusual, unexpected experience. “They will be successful in whatever they do,” Bever said. “I feel like this is a special group because of this and I don’t know why, but I feel that the challenges they’ve faced this year will make them stronger and they will be better for it. My relationship with these seniors is something I will cherish forever.”•

Closures Impact Students, Teachers Alike It was Friday the 13th, a day of anticipated celebration as students and teachers counted down a week reprieve for Spring Break. No one had any idea how important that day would be in the 2019-2020 school year.

STORY BY Mike Eddleman


t was the last day classrooms were full, dancers practiced, athletes took the fields, the band played and students gathered for lunch. Before the break had ended, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a temporary school closure that ultimately claimed the remainder of the school year, leaving a lot of unfinished business and disappointment for students and teachers alike. Many clubs and organizations had their sights set on end-of-year competitions and celebrations, only to see them cut short without warning. Senior Shane Smith, a flute player in the Panther Band, was set to perform for the third time in as many years at State, a rare honor Band Director John Perrin said was difficult to see missed. “He’s a three-year all-state player and he made it to state solo and ensemble every single year,” Perrin said. “He did not get to do his final performances because they canceled it. The thing I counseled him on is this is one instance – a 15-minute piece of your life – and the memories are really the time that you spent with the people preparing it. It’s not really about that moment necessarily. Nothing can make up for many of the missed opportunities that students were faced with due to the abrupt end to so many activities. “That’s not to downplay that performance, or say it wouldn’t be meaningful or special, but if we don’t have that opportunity, then what do we focus on?” Perrin said. “We focus on the time spent and how much fun we had doing all those things instead of how sad it is we aren’t getting to do something.” The reality of missing so many traditions and chances to show off their skills echoed Continued on page 20

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Continued from page 19

throughout the school district this spring. The Liberty Belles’ annual Spring Show was to be in April, but was another casualty of the extreme precautionary measures mandated by the State. “That was unfortunately canceled and they had been putting in so much work to put this show together and then we didn’t get to do any of it,� said Director Megan Fitzgerald. “That was extremely heartbreaking. It has been difficult to go through for myself and my dancers.� The Spring Show was to put an exclamation point on a banner year, with the Belles finishing competition season in February with dozens of accolades – both individual and as a team – across three competitions. “Unlike other sports, dance doesn’t have an off-season,� Fitzgerald said. “They start in July and dance all the way through May. They work their tails off all year long and are always dancing for someone else. They dance for the football halftime shows, they dance for basketball games, then they go to competition. The only time they get to show off everything is at the end of the year at their Spring Show and that’s about them. Both band and dance had to adjust their end of year celebrations – like many other organizations – but found ways to honor the students.



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LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

“Rather than handing them certificates in person we will be doing it virtually, sharing our successes this year and our favorite memories,â€? Fitzgerald said of the Liberty Belles banquet. “We were able to at least close out the year thinking about the good we had before all this happened.â€? For the band, a banquet rescheduled for fall was the answer. “While some people may not be able to make it, we’re still going to hold it. It is keeping a promise and showing we really do appreciate the hard work they’ve put in and the first available opportunity, we’re going to go back and we’re going to celebrate that.â€? Perrin said. Athletes in baseball, softball, track, soccer, tennis and golf all saw promising seasons cut short, and the message from coaches has been the same. Track Coach Gretchen Peterson reflected back on the suddenness with sorrow, but focused on hope. “Hope is a great and powerful thing – it keeps us going,â€? she said. “Honestly, this whole thing has been heartbreaking – I can’t imagine what these seniors especially are going through. All the athletes, UIL kids, teachers, coaches, students, staff – none of them knew the last meeting, the last practice, the last game – was in fact that. But, hope is also what is going to get us through this. We hold out hope we will all come out of this stronger, better and more united.â€? A message of great things to come in the future has echoed from every corner of the campus. “I remind them everything happens for a reason and this is what’s supposed to be happening. We may not know why yet, but we’re still able to be there for each other. We’re trying to shine a light on the positive and see the silver lining in what’s going on,â€? Fitzgerald said. Teachers see it even through the lens of the virtual classroom, and remind students that adversity is something everyone must learn to cope with. “You have to persevere and push through, that’s what you do,â€? said high school speech teacher Tammy Ballard. “No, it’s not how we all wanted it to be, but this is exactly what it is so we make the best of it and we move on. This is the new norm for us, and hopefully it won’t always be this way. But, this is what it is right now so we had to get our work done and do what we need to do.â€? In the end, for all the competitions and celebrations missed or amended, it was one thing that resonated most for everyone. “The kids keep saying the same thing, ‘Hey, we just really want to see our friends,’â€? said LHHS Principal Jonathan Bever. “And I know, even as principal at the high school, I just want to be with the kids. I just want to be with my staff. This is a people business and we’re in the business of helping and serving others. It’s very emotional. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I just miss the kids.â€? •

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Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D







he abrupt, dramatic changes the COVID-19 thrust upon the students, teachers and staff throughout Liberty Hill ISD left a lot of unanswered questions that suddenly needed very nontraditional answers. Instruction shifted from classrooms to remote learning, and what is usually celebrated as the culmination of another successful school year became a lesson in finding new ways to connect, celebrate and make the most of the unexpected. The need to create a robust, responsive online learning plan posed many challenges, some well beyond technology or curriculum itself. The district was intent first on putting the focus on a

balance that recognized the challenges students and families might face in the new situation. “Our intent was to go slow because we knew kids needed time to adjust as well as families in trying to find that balance,” said Dr. Toni Hicks, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Accountability. “Our whole mantra has been grace over grades and consideration over compliance. We want to be sensitive to what’s happening in the lives of our kids and our families, and understand the access to materials and resources varies depending on the household.” Administrators all over the district were faced with helping students and families cope with some difficult realities that

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required a lot of flexibility. “Being respectful and honoring everybody’s situation right now was important,” said Bill Burden Elementary Principal Tanya Lambert. “There were some homes where parents had the capabilities and time to devote to online learning, then there were homes that parents were working 14-hour shifts as essential workers, so it needed to be something that was good for all kids and really respectful of everybody’s situation.” The district and teachers were in as much of a learning mode as students as the new learning environment evolved. “Our teachers have been incredibly understanding and very cognizant of what they’re putting out for our kids to ensure it is adaptable to the many households we serve,” Hicks said. Adaptability in lessons, in time and in communications proved vital. “We’ve just really tried to meet the needs any way we can,” said high school teacher Tammy Ballard. “That is what our district did a really great job with, trying to figure out what we could do for those kids that don’t have everything that everyone else has.” Principals joined together, bringing teams of teachers aboard to develop plans. For Lambert, this was a natural progression from the work teachers and administrators have always done together. “We’re all Panthers and we all have the Liberty Hill spirit and it was the same thing rolling into this. Grade-level teams from each campus met together to develop one curriculum. That was a really cool thing, and it was just like we do all team things here,” Lambert said. There was no plan to dust off, and no history to look back

on, but teachers dove in and with all parts of the learning engine working together, the plans materialized quickly. “Doing it quickly was the issue, there was no easing into it. We saw what we had to do, how we had to do it and we went with it,” Ballard said. Once the technology was in the hands of students and lesson plans in place, there were still many differences between working with a classroom full of students and at-home instruction. “To have kids connected and have devices in their hands to enrich their learning has been good,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “I don’t think there is any device that can replace a good quality teacher.” But whether it is encouraging band students to practice outside for all to enjoy, or family-focused physical education lessons, teachers found ways to adapt lessons to home. “At the junior high and high school level we ran like a virtual contest,” said Band Director John Perrin. “Practice this many minutes a week and you get this many points, if you do this composition thing online where they go and write their own music then submit it, it is so many points. We were trying to hit all the different areas of music that we sometimes don’t get to cover in class. Composition isn’t something we really get to do that much of so this is a chance for kids to explore a different side of music besides just the performance area. We really tried to think outside the box and let them do some things that were not just sitting in their room practicing for 30 minutes.” In other areas, household items became a great new opportunity. “As one example, our kids are utilizing Continued on page 24

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Continued from page 23

measurements through cooking then reporting back to our teachers on that,â€? Hicks said. “Our teachers are being very mindful of the resources that are in the home that they can tap into because the resources we would use in our classrooms are not in every home.â€? But something was missing. “We are all in this business for kids, that’s why we got into it,â€? Snell said. “To be around them every day, to enjoy their company, to be inspired by them, to celebrate their accomplishments, that’s 90 percent of it for our teachers and staff. Ten percent of it is curriculum. “Without the relationship and the personal contact you really have to be creative to continue to build those relationships and connect with kids. This worked because we had to make it work and we had to reinvent ourselves, but we want to get back and get kids in the classroom,â€? he added. For some it was evident what was being lost on day one. “You could see the disappointment community-wide that parents and kids and everyone felt. Teachers are more than just teachers. They do more each day than deliver curriculum and so the outpouring of support from parents to teachers and teachers to parents was special,â€? Lambert said. Across the district, teacher after teacher, administrator after administrator, felt the loss of not being able to be around their students. “There are kids that need us, they need us by their sides to help them,â€? said Liberty Hill High School Principal Jonathan Bever. “And because of circumstances, that’s not allowable. We’ve really worked hard. Our teachers are working harder than ever.â€? •



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OVERCOMING ALL ODDS Liberty Hill Seniors Go Out With a BANG After All STORY BY Scott Akanewich | PHOTOS BY Alex Rubio

The night sky over Panther Stadium exploded in a cornucopia of colors as the Liberty Hill High School Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony came to a close on a balmy June evening as a fireworks display was launched above the lights from beyond the north end zone. Certainly it was a proper ending to a night that was filled with a bittersweet mixture of regret and hope as 282 newly-minted high school graduates were sent off into the real world. “Four weeks ago, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to do this,” said Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Steve Snell, in his opening remarks to the crowd. “But, the seniors came to me and said, ‘If there’s one thing we want more than any other, it’s one last sunset together as a class.’ So, here we are – God is good and we’re going to have a great evening.” The commencement was originally set May 22, but was pushed back after the State said in-person ceremonies could be scheduled after June 1. Madison Sears was one of the graduates on this night and was Continued on page 28 Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D



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overwhelmed by the opportunity to re-unite with her classmates after the global COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended their senior year. “This is so awesome,” said Sears, who starred in cross country and track during her time in Purple-and-Gold. “For me, it’s a mix of emotions and it’s definitely different, but it was important for me to be able to have this closure.” Vince Hernandez, who will study architecture at the University of Texas, was already looking forward to the impact he plans on having on the world – but not without one last chance to reflect back. “I like being able to leave a footprint,” he said. “But, I’ve been looking forward to this ceremony for my whole life.” Emily Barnett, who sang the National Anthem to begin the event, was very thankful for the chance to congregate with her fellow Panthers. “Singing the anthem was a huge honor and an unbelievable opportunity,” said Barnett, who will attend Baylor University and study musical theater performance. “It’s so exciting to see everybody one last time.” However, there was one thing that caused her consternation before the ceremony. “I’m super nervous because of all the walking I’m going to have to do in these shoes,” she joked, referring to her choice of high-heel footwear. Students were seated six feet apart on the football field and many walked the length and width of the field to accept their diplomas. Snell said attending commencements is something that always brings a smile to his face.


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“All this never gets old,” he said. “I think I like being at these more now as an educator than when I was at my own graduation.” In addition, he realizes what this particular commencement represents – with the current situation and how the Class of 2020 was destined to finish their high school years. “This is the ceremonial first step and is symbolic of all the work which has been put in,” said Snell. “It means the world to be able to do this.” Valedictorian Shantika Ramsingh soaked in the moment and everything it represented during her speech. “I remember walking into a new school on the first day of freshman year,” she said. “In some ways, it seemed as if this day would never come.” Ramsingh then went on to list some of the memories that will stand out in her mind for the rest of her life, breaking them down into specific places on the school grounds. “This building over here holds so many memories for me,” she said. “From the

dance room to the foyer where I was fitted for my cap and gown.” She went on to say perhaps the chain of events was exactly as it was meant to be. “We didn’t get the ending we deserved to our senior year, as far as all the things we missed out on,” said Ramsingh. “Although the past will be remembered and the future is in store, all we have is right now.” In closing, a sense of nostalgia was already beginning to set in. “When I look back at high school, I won’t remember all the stress, all the studying or tests I either failed or nailed,” she said. “Building meaningful relationships is more important than good grades.” Sears said the occasion was almost too good to be true. “It feels surreal to all be here together again after we’ve been apart,” she said. “In a way, it felt like we had all moved on with our lives already. But, it just goes to show that with all the bad stuff going on, there’s always something better at the end, so that makes this even more special.” •

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STORY BY Mike Eddleman EVEN AT A TIME WHEN TOMORROW IS FULL OF UNKNOWNS, SHANTI RAMSINGH – THE LIBERTY HILL HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2020 VALEDICTORIAN – HAS FOUND A WAY TO MAKE THE MOST OF HER SENIOR YEAR AND KEEP HER FOCUS ON THE FUTURE. “I am really honored,” Ramsingh said of finishing her high school career at the top of her class. “It took a lot of hard work, dedication and long sleepless nights. But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of my friends and my teachers.” She attributes her accomplishment to two important factors in her life – a strong support system and a wide range of interests. “It does take a lot of dedication. It wasn’t exactly something I was trying to do. It wasn’t my whole life and soul was committed to it. I was also really committed to robotics and I’m a dancer and those things have a lot of meaning to me, too,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the extracurriculars I was involved in I think I would have gone crazy.” Loads of classwork, tests and academic benchmarks to contend with made having outlets like her family or


the robotics and dance teams critical to maintaining balance in life. “It does take a lot of dedication, and you can’t ignore the things you have to do, but having the people on the robotics team, and having an outlet like dance really helped me manage my stress,” she said. “Those helped me keep finding the motivation to work hard. When you’re taking so many AP, OnRamps and honors classes – because our school offers so many – it is really easy to get mentally overwhelmed really quickly. You can see all the work piling up all over the place, and the to-do list I see in my planner.” Teachers and mentors through her high school career, including Calculus teacher Haika Carr, librarian Lauren Claymon and UIL coach Dan Paschal, not only helped make learning fun, but also helped Ramsingh cope with times of high stress. “They know when I’m getting stressed about school and when I do it’s obvious,” she said. “When I do they’ll always tell me that no matter what happens it’s going to be okay and it’s not the end of the world. They help me put what I’m stressing about into perspective.” Advanced Placement Chemistry is the course she recalls as the most challenging.

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“Chemistry is so complicated,” she said. “Mr. (Michael) Staton teaches a hard class, but he’s a really good teacher and he really motivated me to try and understand it, and showed me if I felt like I didn’t get it that I really did understand it.” It was math, her favorite subject as far back as she can remember, is where she felt most at home and happy academically, even in her AP Calculus BC class during her junior year. “I took it as a junior and it was a class full of seniors, but it definitely became like a family really quickly,” Ramsingh said. “Everyone I sat with was like a big brother. The class was hard, but having such a good support system of people around me every day for that class – and having such a good teacher too – made it all worth it and fun.” Ramsingh began school in Liberty Hill as a high school freshman, and has enjoyed being able to have the best of both worlds in a school experience. “What I love about Liberty Hill High School is it is not too big but it’s not too small,” she said. “I feel like I have a sense of community inside the high school, but I don’t feel like it’s too small. I love the sense of community I got from joining different clubs. I love how supportive everyone is of everyone else here, no matter what else is going on.” With plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin in the Fall, Ramsingh will be majoring in environmental engineering, with the hope of landing a career in corporate sustainability. “You work with large companies to help make their practices more sustainable and better for the environment,” she said. “Eventually I’d

like to have my own business but that’s kind of far away.” Her mom, an environmental biologist, has been a big influence. “She raised us to not be ignorant to those problems,” Ramsingh said of her mother. “In the last few years we’ve seen the problems of climate change and improper waste management become a lot more prevalent. It’s something that really stares me in the face, and seeing the projected consequences if we don’t address this problem now is what really drives me to use what I can to make an impact on these issues.” The abrupt, unexpected ending to this school year reminded Ramsingh of what is most important. “What I did miss was seeing my teachers and my student friends,” she said. “That’s what I missed about school. For as much reward as getting a grade can give you, you will always get more of a reward from being with people who support you. Surrounding yourself with supportive people is always going to outweigh any good grade, no matter how many hours you put into it. That’s really the message I want to share.” While there are some bittersweet realities at the end of her high school career, Ramsingh has been able to focus on the silver lining of an unexpected ending. “I’m just really grateful that through all this we’ve all been there for each other,” she said. “Teachers have been there for students, students have been there for other students, administrators have been there for teachers and students. I just couldn’t be more grateful that during this time everyone has had each others’ back, even six feet apart.” •

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Growing to see what’s important STORY BY Mike Eddleman

SUTTON LANDERS-CARLYON LAUGHS when he refers to himself as a “lousy” participant in UIL activities back during his freshman year. But the senior, and Salutatorian for the Class of 2020, says he has learned a lot about what’s important in the last four years. His dedication to UIL competitions grew along with his increased involvement in UIL clubs. “Out of all the activities, it has been UIL that I committed to and stayed in all four years,” he said. “I’ve gone from being a lousy member at the beginning to now being a team captain. That’s been my favorite experience. The instructors are great and I have great memories from that.” What Landers-Carlyon first saw as just another set of tests to take evolved into something special. “It’s so much more than that,” he said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction you get from Saturdays with your buddies taking the tests, getting that competitive nature going, getting together with a bunch of different schools. It is really rewarding.” But that initial impression came with being a high school freshman who didn’t really want to be involved. “When I came in freshman year I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, and as a freshman I was definitely guilty of being the kid who just wanted to get what I had to done and get it over with,” he said. “At first I was like ‘Wow, I have to study more for something that doesn’t even seem that rewarding?’” It took a little time, but before long it grew from a casual involvement to something very important to him. “I didn’t really feel like I was contributing at the beginning, but I think by my junior year I felt like I was making some contributions to the team,” he said. “It is a team effort. You can’t do it all alone.” And having something special outside of class helped Landers-Carlyon learn an important life lesson. “As I got more mature in high school I learned that things like this are important,” he said. “The more you continue to grow the more you learn those outside things are fulfilling and rewarding. If you really want to make a lasting impact it is about doing things outside of school and participating in these fulfilling experiences. I’m not going to remember all the tests I took. I’m going to remember the other stuff and the people that helped me grow.” 32

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Along with his UIL experiences, Landers-Carlyon said his teachers and mentors helped him grow tremendously.

“I think the teachers here are the best part of the experience,” he said. “A lot of people I may not have been able to connect with, but the teachers are very good standout teachers who have changed who I have become.” He had a particularly good experience with his teacher in a chemistry class, who not only helped him with the ins and outs of degree plans and career opportunities, but also developing a love for a certain subject. “I came into high school unsure of what I wanted to do after high school,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go to college, but I had no clue what I wanted to study or what I was interested in. Mr. (Michael) Staton basically opened my eyes to the world of chemistry and thanks to him I’ve been encouraged to pursue chemistry in my life. He really helped me choose what I want to do after high school.” Others on campus also had a big influence in his life, including Librarian Lauren Claymon and Assistant Principal Anthony Escobar. “They taught me how to look at the world in a different way, to become a better person, to discover myself and to just grow from where I started as a freshman to now,” he said. “They have all used the experience they have to influence the children they care about.” There was never a question whether he would go in the general direction of math and science, but that experience with Staton helped him zero in on chemistry.

“It is basically a world of unknowns and you’re basically trying to solve those unknowns,” he said. “All chemistry is is stuff we can’t see, we can’t really look at and view, and I always found that interesting with all the conceptual things. It is everywhere and runs everything in this world and you learn that when you dive deep into it.” Landers-Carlyon plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin to study chemical engineering, and is excited about one opportunity more than any other. “Research,” he said. “Research, research, research. I just want to spend a lot of time in the lab, and that’s what I am looking forward to the most. It will be really good to be able to dive deep into whatever I’m particularly interested in at that time.” He said he hasn’t thought a lot about life past college, but said he has travelled to Boston a few times and loves that part of the country, so moving up to the Northeast would be high on his list. “In Texas chemical engineers find themselves in the oil business really quickly because it’s accessible and it’s open, that’s just where a lot of people end up going,” he said. “I would like to leave Texas and go to other states and see what it is like.” Still, it’s all part of the unknown as he grows into the next chapter of life and focuses on the future. “I’m interested in looking into work in alternative energy sources,” he said. “I may find myself here in Texas working for an oil company, but I don’t want to be doing just oil, I want to help them with the alternative energy issues they’re looking into because that’s what the future is.” •

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s the seasons change from fall to winter and winter to spring, so does the competition style for the LHHS Robotics Club, going from BEST to FIRST. “BEST is what we do in the fall, it’s a smaller robot, they give us a certain amount of materials,” said lead programmer Isaac Villanueva. “This is FIRST robotics, and we get a weight limit, but we can use whatever materials we want to use. It’s a very different competition, and it’s our very first year.” Villanueva says this competition allows them to push the boundaries of their creativity, from building the actual machine to figuring out strategies to solve the challenges of the competition. “We have different tasks we need to solve, and we come together and present different ideas about how to solve the


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

task,” said Villanueva. “We figure out the mechanics of completing the task, then prototype it. If it doesn’t work, we move on to a different method. If it does work, then we figure out how to build it the most efficient way.” Villanueva became a member of robotics because of his interest in engineering and programming, skills he takes from his father. His mother, Alexa, is responsible for spearheading the booster to help support the robotics team moving forward. “I enjoy being part of the team and feeling like part of a team,” he said. “And learning, I love learning. My dad’s a programmer, and I’ve always wanted to be that. I just never had the time to sit and learn it. Now that I know what it’s all about, I know I want to go into the engineering field.”

Syed Husain is one of the busiest members of the club, working on three different teams–programming, build, and marketing. “I joined to build my skills. All three of the teams I’m on-programming, build, and marketing–I feel like they’re very important skills for me to develop,” Husain said, “I plan to go into a STEM field, maybe computer science.” As a member of the marketing team for both competitions, Husain is well versed in the differences between BEST and FIRST marketing. “In our fall competition, it’s a lot more like we’re pitching our robot to investors,” said Husain. “It’s a lot like a mock investment meeting. We have a presentation and wear suits and everything. In FIRST, it’s a lot more like public outreach, so the marketing team will go out to local businesses and ask for support.” Husain is an ambitious individual, and while he enjoys the work and what he gains, he admits that being on three teams can be a very draining and demanding experience. “The most difficult thing for me, in general, is to keep up with everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of new things to learn, a lot of new tasks to comprehend and it piles up sometimes. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but that’s why I’m glad I have a team.” Justin England is one of the more comical individuals in the club, always quick to make a joke and make a serious situation lighter. England is the most senior of the group, having been a member for four years. “It was either this or soccer, and I’m not that athletic,” said England. Underneath England’s whimsical exterior is a bright thinker, interested in how the machines work. Although building a robot to make it fight another robot is his true passion. “I get to see how everything related

DRIVE WHEELS Individually controlled to navigate the game field using a tank style mode of transportation

ELEVATOR This motorized mechanism lifts up to 48” high to place ropes that simulate high voltage power lines.

WINCH This motor moves the elevator up and down

to this machine works, and I get some social experience,” he said. “My favorite part is when I get to make one of these robots move. I’ve been trying to convince them to do battle bots.” Kristen Holladay is in her first year with the team. Upon joining the team, Holladay realized just how much more than building a robot is involved with the robotics club. “It was cool to try and sell a product; in BEST, we took our robot and tried to sell it to a panel of judges,” said Holladay, who is a member of the marketing team. “At first, when I got into this, I thought it was just about building robots, but when I got here there was graphics and marketing, there’s a lot more to it.” The glue that holds the club together is Logan Ortiz, the lead builder for the club. Ortiz has his hands on a little bit of everything, and while he has only been an official member of the team for the last three years, he has been involved since his freshman year. “I do a bit of everything, I oversee a lot of things,” he said. “I was around the team for the first year, but then in my sophomore year, I decided to hop in. It’s our first year doing FIRST, no pun intended.” Before Ortiz can explain his role with the team, a machine donated by a mentor team rolls by; The robot provided by the mentor team serves as a blueprint to be

GRIPPER This servo activated mechanism picks up 6” square boxes that simulate residential power transformers. It is attached to a 4 bar linkage (ARM) that raises and lowers the gripper.

reverse-engineered and help the team in their building. It’s Ortiz’s first year as lead build. Going beyond the building role, Ortiz has been active in the marketing for the team. “I worked on the bot, but I also have a hand in talking marketing and display,” he said. “But as we got into FIRST, I decided to go out and look for sponsors and machine shops that would consider helping. We had a meeting with someone from Advanced Innovations who gave us some contacts and said he’d help us out.” Ortiz, like Villanueva, relishes the creativity he’s allowed under FIRST competition rules. If it was up to the lead builder, the team’s robot would have been a tank. “We can pretty much use anything we

want to. We don’t have to have wheels. We could have a tank if we wanted to,” Ortiz said. “I found some treads that would work. I was thinking about it.” Ortiz believes that all aspects of competition are important. He believes being efficient and well-versed in them as well as having a good team dynamic will lead to a better result. “A lot of this is mainly separate parts, but it’s all connected as the same competition,” he said. “A lot of compromising goes into what you do and what designs you get as people come together, everyone will butt heads. It happens a lot. You need to learn to compromise and go with the best idea. We still take everybody’s ideas; we take everybody’s input.” • Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


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iberty Hill ISD has the we were moving so fast we sold all distinction of being one ($98.6 million) to build our schools LHISD PUTS FUNDS TO WORK of the fastest growing quickly. That means we incurred school districts in the debt for that all at once,” said FOR COMMUNITY Central Texas, an area where Superintendent Steve Snell. “While STORY BY Mike Eddleman growth among communities is we’re waiting to spend that money often difficult to keep up with, much we’ve invested it, and in the last six less stay one step ahead of. months that has earned roughly Staggering growth numbers were the reason the Board of $755,000, too, so that’s a good financial deal for the district as Trustees put a $98.6 million bond proposal in the hands of area well to offset some of the debt.” voters. Those same numbers were what convinced voters to The bond passed in the final months before former Superoverwhelmingly approve the measure and give the go-ahead for intendent Rob Hart’s retirement, and when Snell stepped into LHISD to build a new elementary school, a new middle school, the role he went to work with the architects from Huckabee and renovate the Intermediate School to create a fifth elementary construction managers from Bartlett Cocke, and added engineer school and add on to the high school. Casey Sledge to the team to help keep the projects organized, on Each of those projects is in the works, whether it is Santa Rita schedule and to be constantly looking for ways to save funds. Elementary getting the finishing touches for an August opening “We were able to make some substantial savings just in that or the Intermediate campus work now hitting the drafting table. project, not necessarily to just save money, but to be able to use that money on other things that needed to be included to make NAMES AND NUMBERS sure that project is complete like it needs to be,” Snell said. While exact numbers may fluctuate as projects near completion, Members of the community that worked on the bond committhe $98.6 million bond package divides up with $32.2 million for tee were Chair Katie Reid, Treasurer Cindy Montemayor, Glen Santa Rita Elementary, $50.5 million for the new middle school; Reid, Heather Pacheco, Becky Shaver, Rob Baughn, Lance Dean, $1.2 million to renovate the Intermediate campus; and $14.7 Tracie Ortega, Traci Oehler, Larry Floyd, Tara Marshall and million to add classroom space onto the high school. Karly Baughn. The bond passed with 4,523 in favor among the total voter Snell echoed Hart’s appreciation for the work of the committurnout of 8,099 – a LHISD election high. tee in the wake of the strong community support at the ballot box. Seeing an immediate need for some of the funds only “I’d like to thank the committee and thank the staff members months after voters approved the measure, and a favorable who worked so hard on this bond,” Snell said. “It is very exciting, financial situation, the Board of Trustees approved the sale of not only to be a part of future products, but to be a part of a disall of the bonds in early 2019. trict that supports kids and supports their school district.” It made it possible to get a jump start on the new elemenIn 2010, an $85.6 million bond was passed for the new high tary school – the first project on the list – but also had another school, athletic facilities and other campus renovations. Then in benefit for the district. 2016, a $35 million bond passed for Rancho Sienna Elementary “Some people just sell the bonds when they need them, but School, an agriculture barn, and some other projects. • 38

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

SANTA RITA ELEMENTARY When bids came in, the guaranteed maximum price for the elementary school – set to house 800 students – was set at $27.2 million for construction. With soft costs rolled in, the project is expected to come in somewhere under the $32.2 million approved for the project in the bond election. The new campus is going to be 105,786 square feet and will be located on Santa Rita Boulevard, across from the neighborhood park in Santa Rita South. The original plan was for a 14-month construction calendar, and even as contractors navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, the district said the project would be completed on time. “We feel real good so far,” Snell said of progress on the projects. “The elementary is on track to be completed this summer in plenty of time to get moved in and have a stress-free opening.” The technology on the new campus will not differ greatly from other recently-built campuses. “The name of the game now with technology is flexibility and adaptability,” Snell said. “You really want a system that

requires less plug in and more wireless. To have more wireless access points you just plan ahead and it saves the district a little money.” The district wants to make sure the technology infrastructure is set to handle not only the number of devices, but all types of devices on the campus. “There is an increased bandwidth capacity that you need in today’s world because it’s not just school devices, but everybody has handheld devices,” he said. “It is not so prevalent on the elementary campuses as far as learning, but you might have Chromebooks, you might have some tablets or other things, so you want to make sure when it is time to use technology that it works and


The district closed on the purchase of just over 32 acres of land for the new middle school early this spring, and dirt work on the site has begun. With completion of the 900-student capacity campus, Liberty Hill ISD will have two middle schools, once the current junior high is reorganized as well. There have been a few slow downs along the way, but Superintendent Snell said everyone involved in the project is confident the campus is on track to be completed in time for a fall 2021 opening. “It’s going to be a big building and we have a limited timeline, but right now we’re working as hard as we can to get that done,” he said. “In a perfect world, with the middle school, you’d al-

ready see steel up. It’s going to be a very tight schedule, but we have confidence in our builders that we can get it done.” The land – just over 32 acres on the other side of Ronald Reagan Boulevard from Santa Rita South and the new elementary campus – was purchased for $2.14 million, but came with some financial benefits for the

there’s enough bandwidth for them to create and produce and look up whatever they need to look up.” Santa Rita Elementary is being built to house fewer students, keeping it more in line with where districts like to see capacity at that level. “The capacity is going to be 800,” Snell said. “It is a little smaller than Rancho. It was built for 1,000, but Dr. (Rob) Hart knew with the projections coming that we would need more room. I’m glad he did because we’re over 800 at Rancho now. For us, it’s good to have another neighborhood school, but it’s also good to alleviate some of the pressure on Burden and Rancho Sienna and their enrollment.” •

district. “That’s a real good deal for us,” Snell said of the property. “It’s not just the price, it’s that there are strings attached to it in terms of a road needing to be built and completed by a certain date. Water, sewer and electricity need to be brought out there. Those are very, very expensive and something school districts

really can’t afford to do.” The new campus will be about 150,000 square feet, compared to the 105,000 square feet in the new Santa Rita Elementary. The size is based on the number of students planned for, but also other factors. “The difference is all the amenities we put in the middle school for all the activities such as a competition gym and more Career and Technology Education type spaces,” said Sledge Engineer Casey. There will be economies of scale in the construction, but those amenities and the site will add to the cost versus the elementary school. “The land is substantially bigger for the middle school,” Sledge said. “Santa Rita as comparable, is about Continued on page 40

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Continued from page 39

a 14-acre site, and the middle school is a 32-acre site.” Sledge said he is very comfortable with the $50.5 million initial price tag suggested when the bond was passed. “We had a milestone meeting with (construction manager) Bartlett Cocke and (architect) Huckabee specifically to review the schematic design as we’re getting ready to present it and what we think it would cost,” he said. “The good news it is right in line and we should have no trouble fitting within that budget.” The planning process has included many educators, which has led to many changes as the project evolved.

“One thing I’m very happy with is (Superintendent) Steve Snell and (Assistant Superintendent) Brad Mansfield did was they put together a team of middle school staff representatives for me to deal with and run this project through and we’ve been able to meet with them throughout,” Sledge said. “What I like most about this team is they have not been at all afraid to talk about how they want to educate, which is a very important discussion when you’re laying out a building.” Discussions included things like how to use collaborative space and how teachers will use classrooms. The new middle school will be two stories in the

classroom wings, with the other portions one story. The east side of the main building of the new middle school is where two gyms, coaching and locker room facilities will be located. The location will allow access to the gyms after hours while easily closing off the remainder of the campus. It also allows controlled access to locker room and coaching offices. The remainder of the main building is for administrative offices, kitchen and lunch room, as well as theater, band, art and career and technology classrooms. All other classrooms will be located in the two-story second building on the west

end of the property. The library is at the center of the academic building. The classroom building is designed to have sixth-grade students primarily separated from seventh and eighth graders in one side of the second floor. For the higher grades, humanities is located on the first floor with science classes on the second with lab space, all wrapped around the library space. While the campus is designed for 900 students, many of the core spaces – such as the library and cafeteria – are sized larger so additions can be made to the campus without having to expand those spaces. •

















for dance and cheer, as well as shared restrooms. The dance studio will have a wood floor with mirrors and dance bars on the wall. The construction type In addition to the two brand new campuses, there and finishes will match the existing building. are additions in the works for the high school to Renovations are planned in the Career and expand capacity, and a retrofit planned for Liberty Technology Education (CTE) wing to accommodate Hill Intermediate to turn it into the district’s fifth expansion of existing programs. The renovations will elementary school. create separate CNA and Pharmacy Tech labs. At that time, elementary campuses will each The existing computer labs will be renovated to house kindergarten through fifth grade, the two midbecome CTE classrooms. The robotics program will dle schools will be for sixth, seventh and eighth grade, move over from its current home in the Fine Arts wing and the high school will be large enough to handle the to the CTE wing. In other areas around the building, growing student population there. existing rooms will be renovated for new functions. There is a budget of $14.7 million for new addiTheHILL high school additions are expected to be EXISTING LIBERTY HIGH SCHOOL tions to Liberty Hill High School, that will expand classcompleted in time for the 2021-2022 school year. room space as well as help other programs expand. The final planned project in this bond “We’ve had some real good planning with the high package is the $1.2 million Intermediate school team and that is going to break ground this campus renovation and is set to take summer to add on classrooms to that, and we’re real place in time to open as an elementaexcited about that,” Superintendent Snell said. ry campus when the new middle Two of the three classroom wings currently at the school opens. high school will be expanded, adding 21 classrooms “We can transition the EXISTING LIBERTY HILL HIGH SCHOOL and two fully-equipped science labs. Intermediate School The culinary arts addition will be set up with six over the summer student stations that include a refrigerator, sink, because that’s oven, cooktop, microwave and cabinet storage. a lighter lift Shared dishwashers and a teacher demonstration than buildtable will be set up in the middle of the room. ing a new There is a dance addition consisting of a dance school,” studio, teacher’s office, storage room, locker rooms Snell said. • 40



Existing Pavement/Roads Existing Sidewalks Existing Grass Existing Playing Fields Existing Trees Existing Detention Ponds Existing Retention Ponds Existing Tracks/Infields/Tennis Buildings New Additions / Expansions Existing Surrounding Property/ Context


Existing Pavemen

Existing Sidewalk Existing Grass

Existing Playing F Existing Trees

Existing Detention

Existing Retention

Existing Tracks/In Buildings

New Additions / E

Existing Surround Context

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020








LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

THRIVE Health Science Career Programs

at Liberty Hill High School STORY BY Rachel Madison

PHOTOS BY Alex Rubio

Students attending Liberty Hill High School have a unique opportunity to graduate with multiple certifications required to begin a career in healthcare – and many of them are doing just that, as the program continues to grow each school year.

he health science program, which consists of certified nurse assistant (CNA) classes and pharmacy technician classes, launched in LHISD in the 2013-14 school year. For the first two years, the program included basic health science courses, and in the third year, practicum courses were added. “If a student starts as a freshman, they’ll take principles of health science; as a sophomore they’ll take medical terminology; as a junior they’ll take health science theory and anatomy and physiology; and then their senior year they’ll take their practicum, and they can choose between CNA or pharm

tech,” said Christine Riddick, the pharmacy technician program coordinator. During the first year the practicum courses were offered, each program only had three students. Now the programs are continuing to grow annually. This school year, the CNA programhas 21 students, and the pharm tech program has six students. Kalley Klinksiek, Certified Nurse Assistant program coordinator, joined Riddick in the health science arena in February 2017. “Our programs are growing exponentially,” she said. “This year will be my fourth set of students that have gone through the program. It’s continuing to grow. In fact, our growth is so big, we might have to start capping classes.” Liberty Hill High School start-

ed the health science CTE program after conducting a survey among students where feedback leaned heavily toward interest in healthcare careers. “We thought, ‘How can we provide that opportunity?” said Riddick. “And these kids may not do nursing or may not do pharmacology, but those classes will still give you a background of knowledge you need for the healthcare field. It gives students the opportunity to put their foot in the door and see what healthcare is about.” The CNA and pharm tech programs were added because they are two areas within healthcare that are in high demand. “These are roles people can start in and then advance up,” she

Continued on page 46

Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D







This year’s event has unfortuately been cancelLed. Please join us next year on May 15, 2021 to Experience Art Like Never Before!

Main Street is transformed into an eclectic fusion of everything whimsical and wonderful, with surprise elements at every turn. Local businesses display art from local artists, and the streets are filled with live art demonstrations, live music, artisan vendors, performers, and food and wine.


Visitors can interact with the artists, while getting their own opportunities to create art in the heart of downtown Liberty Hill.

Seven bands • Live art Demos Wine tastings (21+ must show ID) Food & art available for purchase Street Performers Children’s Imagination Garden

FREE parking at these locations: Liberty Hill Elementary - 1400 Loop 332 Fellowship Church - 3600 RR 1869 Cross Tracks Church - 101 Church Street Catch a FREE pedicab from parking lots to the festival entrance in front of Parkers!

Continued from page 43

said. “Jobs are open in these areas and they’re a great starting place.” At the end of the practicum class their senior year, CNA students can graduate high school with their CNA certification if they pass the required test. In addition to passing the test, they must have also completed the required 60 classroom hours and 40 rotation hours. Rotation hours for the CNA program are completed at the Bertram Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center. CNA students also get CPR and OSHA certifications, which means when they graduate high school, they have three different certifications. “Having these certifications not only looks good on your college applications, but it’s also going to give you a leg up in applying for nursing school or whatever healthcare career you want to go into,” Klinksiek said. At the end of their senior year, pharm tech students could end up with two different certifications. The first one is an IV sterilization test called SPAT, and the second is the PTCE, or pharmacy technician certifi46

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

“Having these certifications not only looks good on your college applications, but it’s also going to give you a leg up in applying for nursing school or whatever healthcare career you want to go into” -Kalley Klinksiek

cation exam. “If they pass that exam, they can be a certified pharm tech right out of high school,” Riddick said. “Hopefully this isn’t their end spot and they’re going to go further into the healthcare field.” While rotation hours are not required for pharm tech certification, Riddick said her students do get the opportunity to have rotation hours at Liberty Hill Pharmacy. Classroom hours for both the CNA and pharm tech programs are spent learning skills, doing hands-on labs and preparing for their certification tests.“ For pharm tech, in the classroom we are memorizing the top 200 drugs,” Riddick said. “We break it up, but by the end of year they know them all. They have to know the brand name,

generic name, what each drug is used for, and its classification.” Students also learn how to read prescriptions and fill them. Students get to participate in mock labs in the classroom where they are given a prescription and they must decipher the writing and determine the correct prescription for a patient. “We have a bunch of donated prescription bottles, so students will have to find the medication on the shelf and then we use Smarties or beans to count out the medication based on what instructions or prescription I’ve given them,” Riddick added. Students in the CNA program are required to learn 22 different skills that they’ll be tested on during their state test. These skills include taking blood pressure, taking a pulse, logging height and weight, dressing a patient, catheter care, cleaning dentures and more. “During the first semester, CNA students learn all the skills they’ll be tested on and then some,” said Klinksiek. “Some skills they have to know to be able to care for people in nursing homes that aren’t necessarily testable,

how to shave. During the second semester, students start their rotations in the nursing home to gain their 40 hours of long-term care experience.” Klinksiek added that along with the students’ nursing home rotation, she also has them spend time in other local healthcare clinics, such as Liberty Hill Pediatrics, Care First Walk-in Clinic, Liberty Hill Dental, Texas Physical Therapy Specialists and Hope House. “A lot of them once they’re in the nursing home aren’t sure if they want to do that type of healthcare, so I like getting them out in the community to see other areas of healthcare,” she said. “They get the opportunity to rotate through each of these places at least twice.” Riddick said the fact that students have the possibility to graduate from LHHS with a certification that can help them land a well-paying job right out of high school—most pharm tech and CNA jobs pay $12-14 per hour—and know whether or not they even like the healthcare field before they spend years and money in college is huge. “Our programs give them the op-

portunity to get their feet wet,” she said. “Do they really want to be in healthcare? They can find that out without having to have wasted a year or two in college. Our program also gives them opportunities to hear about different careers. Some kids know they want to go into the medical field, but they don’t know where yet. Taking our classes helps them see where their interest might lie. It helps them to see what areas of healthcare they are cut out for.” In the future, she hopes LHHS will

add more health science practicums to the course, including EMT training and dental assisting, but for now, there’s no timeline as to when any new programs will be added. “Before we add any new programs, we will be getting input from students Continued on page 48

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 Â?  Â? Â?Â? Â? Â

Students take Engineering Design & Presentation 1 & 2 and earn their certifications in AutoCAD and Solidworks.

  ­ Â? € Â? ‚ ­  Â?   Â‚  Â

Students take Principles of Education, Human Growth & Development, and new in 2020-2021 will take Ready Set Teach 1! that will allow them to work alongside another teacher in the district getting first hand classroom experience.

Students take courses such as Business Information Management and Business Management as well as earn Specialist certifications in Microsoft Office Suites.

Students take Accounting courses and earn their Quickbooks user certification. Fun fact: Accounting 2 can count as their fourth math credit for graduation.

LHHS is expanding their Marketing pathway in 2020-2021 by adding Social Media Marketing and Virtual Business to the list of courses students can take. Sports and Entertainment Marketing is a very popular course among students currently.

Students can take Principles of IT, Web Technologies, and Computer Programming to learn behind the scenes information on website building and the fundamentals of coding.

Students can take Intro to Culinary, Culinary Arts, and Practicum in Culinary to earn their ServSafe Managers certification.

Students have the opportunity to earn various welding certifications through our Welding pathway such as AWS D9.1, D1.1, and API 1104.

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

Continued from page 47

on what their interests are,â€? she said. “Part of the hold up right now is that we don’t have the facility space or equipment to add more programs right now. We only have one lab, so we will have to wait until we have more space to do more hands-on activities.â€? •

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LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020


Fire to educate still burns bright for Rachel Dawson STORY + PHOTOS BY Anthony Flores EVERY MORNING FOR THE LAST 27 YEARS Rachel Dawson has started the day as a teacher for the Liberty Hill ISD, bringing an unstoppable desire to educate and nurture her students. “It’s the kids that keep me doing this,” said Dawson. “I feel like my job is significant, and it’s an honor to be a part of children’s lives for 10 months out of the year. To have a hand in who they’re going to grow up to be, that’s a big honor.” The relationships developed over those 27 years is another of the big motivations for Dawson’s continued dedication to her career. “The people that I work with are amazing,” she said. “I know a lot of schools don’t have the relationships and the types of people we have working here. It’s unique, and that’s a big part of it. If you’re going to work every day and you aren’t fond of the people, it becomes drudgery. There isn’t anyone in fifth grade that I wouldn’t want to work with.” Dawson began her teaching career for LHISD in April of 1992, less than a year after graduating from the University of Texas. In her time with the district, Dawson has taught a multitude of subjects at different levels, from elementary to high school. “In high school, I taught English 1 to 4, I’ve taught AP classes, and I taught psychology,” said Dawson. “I’ve done all the subjects in fifth grade, ELA, math, social studies, and science. I’ve taught gifted and talented, and I’ve been a math intervention teacher.” Currently, Dawson is teaching science, a subject close to her heart. 50

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

“It’s my favorite. I love science, and the kids love science,” she said. “There’s a lot of hands-on work, and there’s so much to learn about it.” Dawson has three children who have all grown up through the LHISD education system, with the youngest one currently a senior at the high school. She appreciates the experience and opportunity to raise and educate her children in a tight knit community. “I just feel like I know so many people working in the district,” she said. “I knew other parents, and I knew other teachers that were parents. I think that helps children to know where they’re going and what they’re doing. Sure, my kids weren’t very fond of it, but I liked it.” As she completes her 28th year and inches ever closer to her 30th, retirement is becoming a consideration.The veteran teacher won’t find boredom waiting for her in retirement. Dawson is a nature enthusiast, enjoying hiking and nature photography. “I do a lot of nature photography, and I have a Facebook page for it called Sauntering’s in Nature, I love doing that,” she said. “I’m also a watercolor artist. I’m always looking for something new. It becomes an addiction to do new things. Every time that I go outside, there’s something beautiful and surprising. I love hiking. Except in August.” While she’s taught every subject under the sun and then some, there’s one thing that Dawson hopes her students learn from her. “Life is full of ups and downs, don’t give up when it’s down because it will turn up again,” she said. “Make a positive difference while you’re on Earth. I think that’s what separates us from every other species, the fact that we can make a positive difference on the people around us or the Earth itself.” •

Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


Liberty Hill football coach, Jeff Walker, wants to guide his players into being solid individuals long after their playing days are over.



STORY BY Scott Akanewich PHOTOS BY Alex Rubio

ne by one, Liberty Hill football players walk past a coach after a practice or game in order to exchange a basic gesture that sums up the theme of the entire Panther athletic program. A handshake. Something that only takes a few seconds, but is symbolic of the bonds created within the ranks of the Purpleand-Gold. “It’s really why they pay us,” said Athletic Director and head football coach Jeff Walker. What coaches do in Liberty Hill is build long-standing relationships that transcend sports and teach life lessons students will put to good use long after their time as Panther athletes is over. Although most observers may only look at scoreboards, those charged


with guiding athletes are concerned with far more, said Walker. “Sure, we get judged by wins and losses,” he said. “But, most people on the outside don’t see what we do behind the scenes and understand the importance of what we do.” Despite the fact it’s only a momentary gesture, Walker said it’s critical to the process of building and maintaining lasting bonds on and off the field. “A good handshake goes a long way,” he said. “We’re pretty tough on them sometimes, so it shows we really care about them as individuals, not just football players.” According to Liberty Hill head volleyball coach Gretchen Peterson, having children of her own provided an epiphany of sorts when it came to caring for her players. “When I started coaching, I didn’t have kids of my own,” said Peterson, who has led the Lady Panthers for 16 seasons. “But, as you grow and mature in life,

Liberty Hill Coaches About More Than Building Athletes

you realize none of what we do here is forever. People aren’t going to care about how many wins you had–it’s how they feel about themselves, what they learned and understanding how to do everything the right way. We want our players to be better wives, mothers and professionals.” Liberty Hill head boys’ basketball Coach Barry Boren also subscribes to the theory of creating solid individuals away from the court. “For example, when kids make mistakes, they need to be held accountable and suffer consequences,” he said. “Everything we teach our players goes beyond basketball. We strive to make each individual the best they can be– physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Continued on page 54

Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


letes will appreciate what’s been asked of them. “Especially in football–we give them a lot of tough love,” he said. “We push them until we can’t anymore, then we push a little more. It’s not much fun at times, but they realize what you’re doing will help them later in life.” As difficult as it is sometimes, especially when both parties are immersed in the season, Walker never wants to lose sight of what’s really important, he said. “We’re interested in the whole person, not just the football player,” he said. “We want our kids to be well-rounded– we do a lot of preaching, so hopefully it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.” With the inordinate amount of time his players spend with teammates and coaches during the season, one can’t help but compare the entire group to their family at home, said Walker. “We talk a lot about family and this is our football family,” he said. “We want them to not only be tough people, but good husbands and fathers when they leave here.” Basic customs and courtesies lay the foundation for the kind of individuals Walker wants to guide, he said. “You know, things like looking someone in the eyes when you shake their hand, using ‘yes, sir and no, sir,’” said Walker. During the past season, a 7-6 campaign when the Panthers encountered numerous trials and tribulations, everything Walker strives to impart on his players was certainly put through a trial by fire, he said. “We know having relationships like we do goes a long way when times are tough,” said Walker. “I think it brought us together. We always want them to know we have their backs and we know they have ours because

Lady Panthers head volleyball coach Gretchen Peterson believes in a family atmosphere in producing strong individuals.

Continued on page 53

For Boren, who is currently in his 18th season as head coach, the relationships that are developed between players and coaches is a two-way street, which is beneficial to all, he said. “We spend more time with our players than they do with their parents,” said Boren. “I’ve always been really good at relationships. I tell my players they’re going to get my best effort, so I want theirs. We want goal-setters and goal-achievers, so they’ll be ready for what society has to offer,” Boren said. Walker said although he pushes his players constantly, if there’s a mutual understanding of the greater good, the ath54

LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

Panthers head boys’ basketball coach Barry Boren uses a philosophy that includes strict discipline.

we’re all in this together.” Being a Liberty Hill football player is a crucible, which young athletes must go through to wear the Purple-and-Gold on Friday nights, but when the lights go out is when the real groundwork is laid as far as the big picture is concerned. “People don’t know what goes on in this building,” he said. “There’s a lot to be said for a young man who goes through what we do here–but then again, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be so special. We want the young men and women in our athletic program to reach their potential.” Peterson stressed the importance of everything she tries to pass along to her players in the way of wisdom that will serve them well in the future. “Sports are great, but we talk about the character of the person you are and whether or not you believe in being part

of something bigger than yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t do any good if you’re a great volleyball player, but a horrible human.” Peterson has also adopted the family theme in how she runs her program. “We try to build our program equating it to a family,” she said. “We’ll spend six out of seven days with our players and that’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly–we want to make sure they’re taken care of, so we have the same principles as a household. We want them to know we don’t just care about them because they’re good volleyball players.” Boren said he’s never worried with piling on too much advice because he definitely wants to make sure his players get plenty. “I would never want one of my players to say he wishes he had more guidance,” he said. “Even when the season

is over, the first thing I do is have one-on-one meetings with each one of our players because I think you need closure in order to end one season and begin another.” Peterson has a strict set of rules her players must abide by in the name of molding them into better people overall. “There are certain things which are non-negotiable,” she said. “Be on time, be in the proper uniform, don’t act the fool in class and treat your teammates and coaches with respect. At the end of the day, we want them to be good human beings above all else.” After her players have been groomed by the guidelines she provides, Peterson hopes they will get to the point of being self-sufficient, she said. “We want them to leave our program as strong, intelligent young women who can count on themselves,” said Peterson. “If I can get them to that point, they won’t need me anymore.” For Walker, his responsibilities have always extended far beyond the gridiron, he said. “We’re in the business of taking care of kids and I want parents to know we’re going to do just that,” he said. “Even when I hire coaches, I make sure they put the kids first. All good coaches have this passion.” Speaking of passion, Walker added if there’s one thing he wants his players to take away from the program, it’s to approach life after football with the same intensity they displayed blocking and tackling. “I want our kids to understand what it’s like to be successful,” he said. “I want them to have a passion for life in going and getting that job they want or whatever and to feel empowered so there’s no situation they can’t handle.” Walker said there’s always one thing that always motivates him to be the best leader he can be. “My greatest fear has always been of letting kids down,” he said. “I want to guide them in the right direction and have them say everything we taught them they’re still using.” • Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


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LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

Boost your home’s value with renovations that are worth the effort and cash. Here are the top projects that could give you the most value in the long run.



Generally considered the top upgrade that a homeowner can make for the least cost. Average Cost: $976 - $2,722

Average Cost: $1,508 - $4,276

Average Return: Varies – Blue rooms could increase sale price by $5,440

Average Return: Hardwood – 70% to 80%


landscaping Attractive landscaping like trees and shrubs can boost value to about 15% compared

Exterior renovations in general have a good return on investment.

to homes without well-maintained landscaping.

Average Cost: $10,950 (Wooden Deck)

Average Cost: $1,446 - $5,317

Average Return: 82.8%

Average Return: 105% to 303%


BATHROOM Investing some money into refreshing the look of your bathroom could

Average Cost: $1,471

help increase your home’s value and may be a big selling point.

Average Return: 91.3%

Average Cost: $19,134 (Remodel, Non-Upscale) Average Return: 70.1%



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Average Cost: $21,198 - $63,829 (Remodel, Non-Upscale)

the extra expense.

Average Return: 59% - 81.1%

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LHISD parents, students, teachers and administrators are the Best in Texas! Thank you for your hard work and cooperation as we faced the challenges presented by COVID-19. Together, we are PANTHER STRONG! We look forward to seeing all of you again in August.

301 Forrest Street, Liberty Hill, TX 78642 | 512-260-5580 | |




Making an Impact and Creating Equal Opportunites STORY & PHOTO BY Anthony Flores


ew Director of student support services, Kimberly de la Houssaye, a graduate of Liberty Hill ISD, settles into her new office where she will be working to help students in the district.

Making an impact and creating equal opportunities for special education students is the mission for LHISD alum Kimberly de la Houssaye in her new role as the district’s Director of Student Support Services. In May, de la Houssaye will have worked for LHISD for 15 years. The department director became a member of the community when her parents moved to town during her 6th grade year. After graduating, de la Houssaye attended college, got married and settled in California, then moved to Houston before being drawn back to Liberty Hill in 2005. “I worked in Burnet for a year. It’s a great place to work, but it wasn’t home,” said de la Houssaye, “Being back in Liberty Hill’s school district was important and being involved in the community is important.” De la Houssaye began her career in education in 1995, teaching general education for seven years before discovering what she believes is her calling and where she focuses today. In her new role, the veteran educator is helping students in special education and those that fall under 504 designation.

“As I worked in that field, I just kept being drawn to students that struggled,” she said. “For me, it was that desire to support students and families and being part of my community. Being a part of changing someone’s life.” Going from hands-on work to being in an office is a big transition for de la Houssaye. Her goal is balancing her time on campuses with students and teachers with her time in the office working through administrative requirements. “Trying to balance my time, making sure I get the administrative things because they’re important but also being out and talking with teachers and being on campuses,” she said of the split challenge. “I need to stay in contact with what needs are there because that’s where the kids are.” While de la Houssaye is new in the position, she has a firm idea of where she wants the department to go in the future. The chance to help students in an expanded role is a thrilling prospect for de la Houssaye. “I get excited when I think, ‘These are the things that we are going to be able to do for students to help them Continued on page 60

Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D



Continued from page 59

in all aspects,’” she said. “From our students who have more significant needs to our students who have minor needs. It makes my job easier to think about how we can take each child and move them forward.” De la Houssaye sees the significance of her department’s work. She believes the relationships she builds with her new staff will make them better at their roles working with families. “I think we have an important place in helping to make sure all students are successful. Some students have needs that may not be met by traditional classroom supports,” she said. “For me, building relationships with my teams are important, so they will go out and build relationships with the campus they’re on and the parents they serve.” •


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020


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LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

Sharif Mezayek

Chief of Police, Liberty Hill ISD Police Department

STORY BY Rachel Madison

What is your role within LHISD? Right now, I’m still putting the department together. I started my role in July 2019, and in August the police department was established. I have two officers in my department, and I’m in the process of hiring one more officer this year. Day to day, I’m answering calls, going to meetings, purchasing equipment and working on purchasing cars. I like to explain that our job is not all law enforcement. It’s about 10 percent law enforcement, 45 percent informal counseling and mentoring, and 45 percent education. That’s how we try to run our program. We want to get to know the students. If the office door is open, the students know they can come in. We try to build relationships with the kids. Not all of our interactions are positive—they can’t be because we have to do our job—but that’s a small portion. Most of the time we are talking to kids about problems at home and directing them where they need to be. That’s the positive part of our job, unlike other law enforcement positions that are always dealing with the negative aspects of people’s worst problems.

Why did you choose a career in law enforcement? I’ve been in law enforcement for almost 26 years. My uncle was a police officer, and I really thought it would be a neat career path because I always wanted to help people. I was a mechanic when I first got out of school. I even went to trade school. Then I really got interested in law enforcement after I started volunteering with a first responder team out of Georgetown. I then went to school to be a [medical first responder] and I was around police officers, and I saw that it was a neat career path, so I went to the police academy.


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

Where have you spent your years in law enforcement? I started in Fredericksburg where I grew up. I was a part-time reserve officer there. Next, I got a job working for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in 1995, where I was a street deputy. In 1997, I went into the schools. They needed a school resource officer at Westwood High School. I loved the job and stayed there four years, but then I wanted to promote, which I couldn’t do in the schools. I got promoted to detective and worked in the narcotics unit for three years, and then promoted to sergeant in 2004, where I stayed for about three years. In 2007, I went back to the schools because they needed a school sergeant in Round Rock ISD. I supervised the whole squad of schools and was also in charge of the D.A.R.E. program and crime prevention. I stayed there until the end of 2017 and then went back to the street as a patrol sergeant. I retired in June 2019, but then this opportunity came up, and here I am. Liberty Hill ISD is a great district and I’m super excited for the opportunity to start and run this program. It couldn’t have come at a better time, because I was planning on retiring and selling real estate, but I really have a passion for working with kids. Out of everything I’ve done in law enforcement that’s by far my favorite. I’ve been able to touch society a little bit more positively.

ROUNDING OUT THE DEPARTMENT Liberty Hill ISD Police Chief Sharif Mezayek hired three new officers over the school year to fully staff the new department. Now officers Jason Wolf, Brian Waters and Patricia Champion – alongside their Chief – get the chance to help build a department from the ground up with the vision laid out by the district. Both officers Wolf and Waters summed up their goal and responsibility as they walk on to Liberty Hill campuses as focused on helping kids succeed and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to deeper trouble later on. “The more of a support system we as SROs can be for kids, the less of enforcers we will ever have to be,” Waters said. “If I can impact a kid and see them change from being so mad they have shut down to where they are actually telling me things, having a conversation with me, and I’ve turned their day around, that to me is a successful day.” Wolf and Waters are both military veterans – a Marine and army veteran respectively – with lengthy law enforcement careers, and both agreed that the opportunity to work with students is something special. Waters grew up in Cedar Park and is a Leander High School graduate. He has 15 years in law enforcement. Wolf grew up in Thrall and has been in law enforcement in Central Texas since 1999. He has lived in Cedar Park for the last nine years. “I’ve always loved working with youth and kids,” Wolf said. “Being an SRO (school resource officer) is something I’ve always wanted to do through my career. When this program started I saw the job opportunity and I saw this as my chance so I jumped on it.” Being available and making sure students know they can come see him is key in that mentoring and teaching role, Waters believes is at the heart of working for a school district department. Champion, originally from McAllen, Texas, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Political Science and Criminal Justice from the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg in 1997. She comes from a service-oriented family comprised of many first responders and she followed in their footsteps and became a City of Edinburg Police Officer in August 1999, working her way up to become the first female supervisor in the history of the department. In 2010, she promoted again to Sergeant. In 2017, she was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division as the Sergeant in charge of Crimes Against Persons group. In the end, the officers know building those important relationships that make them a resource for students is about making sure the students know they are interested and they care. “Interacting with the students at whatever level or place they are is key,” Wolf said. “Going to their games, or if it is something I don’t know about, like robotics, is as simple as saying ‘hey, teach me something.’ Yeah I’m an adult, but they can teach me. When they see that you’re willing to get on their level and learn from them and show interest in what they’re interested in, it kind of opens those opportunities.”•

Tell us about your family. I have a wife of 30 years this August. I have a 27-year-old son who is married and has two little girls. It’s really cool to be a grandparent. I also have a 19-year-old son who is currently training to be a welder. I’m very proud of all of them; the kids are very motivated.

What is your favorite thing to do outside of work? I have this addiction to off-roading. I like to four-wheel with my Jeep. We just got back from a trip to Colorado, and our next trip will be to California to do the Rubicon. I have a nice workshop at home and a lift, so my sons and I do a lot of mechanic work. My sons have learned how to be good mechanics because of that. We also like to camp. We have an RV and we go to a lot of different places.

Is there anything else the people in the community should know about you? I just want people to feel comfortable talking to me. I’m always welcoming parents to call me, and I always have time if students feel they need to talk to me. I really enjoy my job, and I’m grateful I have this opportunity to serve Liberty Hill. •

Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


March 2020


ny Antho Y B Y R



ubrey and Jacob Covington are two of Liberty Hill’s most successful young adults, taking the real world by storm. The twins give credit for much of their success to the small-town environment they were raised in. After graduating, Aubrey attended St. John’s University in New York, while Jacob made West Point his new home. For Aubrey, living in a small town provided a strong foundation to build on. Her desire to journey into the world and experience what was out there drew her to the Big Apple. “Growing up in a small community, while I loved it and it was nice, I wanted to go see what else the world had to offer,”said Aubrey. “So, I said I’m going to go to New York, and it was definitely a culture shock.” Falling in line with his sister, Jacob also felt the desire to go out and find his place in the world. “In high school, I looked at it as an opportunity to play football and go to a good school,” said Jacob. “It was an opportunity to move out of a small community and do something different than what other people were doing.” In New York, Aubrey experienced a new feeling, one hard to find in the tightknit community of Liberty Hill. It was the feeling of anonymity. “It feels like you have a responsibility to uphold your family name in a small town,” she said. “Everyone knows you, so you have to be responsible and live up to your name. That’s something you only get from living in a small town. When you go to New York, no one knows you.” While Aubrey experienced New York, Jacob’s different direction began to provide him with clarity about why he chose the path he was on. “I look at it as this opportunity has provided me so much more,” he said. “My views of what I wanted to be changed from what they were in high school to what they are now because I decided to come here and because I’m doing what I’m doing.” Now that she’s graduated from St. John’s University, Aubrey is getting ready to earn her master’s degree. The future doctor was recently accepted into Sam Houston State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her ultimate goal is to become a medical doctor. “I’m not quite sure where I want to go

A pair of Liberty Hill ISD graduates, Jacob and Aubrey Covington, have taken all they learned at home and translated it into college success. Jacob is a West Point senior and his twin sister Aubrey is a St. John’s University graduate.


LH I S D ConnectE D | Summer 2020

in terms of what medicine I want to practice,â€? she said. “That’s my goal right now, just get through these next four years of schooling and make it out on the other end.â€? As Aubrey prepares for medical school, Jacob will be ďŹ nishing up at West Point, graduating in May. Upon graduation, Jacob will be commissioned as a second lieutenant. He will serve in the infantry for ďŹ ve years and three as a reserve ofďŹ cer. His plans following his service are up in the air at this point, as he decides to wait and see what naturally comes next. “It’s still kind of out there as far as what I want to do,â€? he said. “I want something that will challenge me, something that will build me. If it’s still in the military, then it’s still in the military. If it’s developing others, that would be interesting. If it’s in some professional aspect like a business, then it’s that. It’s still kind of an unknown and a far off.â€? As the twins accomplished their goal of venturing out into the larger world around them, there are some small-town aspects they miss. For Aubrey, despite relishing the feeling of anonymity at ďŹ rst, the old sense of community is one she values more today. “I definitely learned a lot out there,â€?

Aubrey remembers the sometimesshe said. “I learned some new hobbies awkward moments when teachers that I really enjoy, like seeing shows on Broadway and I met a lot of great people. turned into friends parents and the double respect, she felt she needed to show. I also realized there were certain as“Certain teachers we had were also pects of living in Liberty Hill that I missed, our best friend’s parents,â€? she said. “So, like the quiet and the familiarity of it.â€? you’d go to your friend’s house, and your As the twins grew up through LHISD teacher was the mom there, so you’d over the years, it was in this area that have to be extra respectful because not they felt much of the small-town familonly was it your friend’s mom, it was the iarity they grew to miss. teacher you’d see in school.â€? “The teachers would always know The relationship between the two Jacob and me, and they’d see our differsiblings is a strong one. They may share ent personalities,â€? said Aubrey. “They’d different views at times, but they never be like, ‘Aubrey Covington and Jacob forget they’re family, and Jacob gives Covington are completely different,’ but his sister credit for being the one to get they knew who we were individually him through things to where he is now. and as a family.â€? “Aubrey got me through school, and During his time on the high school she got me out of school, so I thank her football team, Jacob developed a great for that. Without her, things wouldn’t relationship with his coach, one that be the same,â€? he said. continues to this day. Coming home is one area where the “I keep in touch with Coach Vance,â€? twins differ. While Aubrey still isn’t ready he said. “He came up for one of the to make a permanent return and isn’t Army/Navy games we had.â€? quite sure that’s a possibility at all, Jacob The relationships made during his would love to come home one day. school days have stuck with Jacob be“After spending the last ďŹ ve years in yond his graduation from high school, many oating in different social circles. New York freezing every winter, I miss home,â€? said Jacob. “I would love to “A lot of my friends were on the come back. I miss the area, and every football team; a lot of my friends time I come home it’s different, but I weren’t on the football team. There still miss it.â€? • was a different bond with each of them,â€? he said. “You spend so much time with those people that they become such a big part of your life.â€? Because of the size of Liberty Hill, so many of the kids the twins began school with continued on with them all the way to graduation. “We started out in kindergarten and went all the way through until CAMPUS SNAPSHOT graduating in 2015,â€? said Aubrey. “We’ve  ­ € ‚ƒ „ grown up with the Principal same group of friends throughout „ Â…­ ­ ­ †† ­Âƒ ­Âƒ our entire time. 7th & 8th 733 72 We’re a close-knit community, so we ‡­Âƒ­Â… all played sports together, all went “Champions in Learning, 2003 (2013 Converted to Jr. High) to school together, Champions in Life.â€? and it shaped us and

gave us a strong  Â? Â? Â? Â?Â? support system going through school.â€? Summer 2020 | LH I S D ConnectE D


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