One of the best developments in our area from the Houston ISD’s bond-financed rebuilding program is the beautiful new performing and fine arts facility at Westbury High School.

The $6.2 million modern wing, at 11911 Chimney Rock in the Brays Oaks Management District, houses the Westbury Magnet Program in the Performing and Visual Arts. It has every bell and whistle needed for the 450 magnet students who enjoy their programs as they develop in their chosen specialties.

And with the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic, student performances there are expected to resume in the fall.

The magnet program, led by Magnet Coordinator Natalie Fischer and principal Jerri Nixon, offers theater, dance, debate, choir, marching band, jazz band and piano, and plans to add orchestra. It also offers visual arts photography, sculpture, drawing and painting. Broadcast journalism is expected to be added as well. 

Fischer is the founding coordinator of the magnet program, which started in 2016. Nancy Mendez is the founding magnet clerk, hired at the same time.

A recent tour of the new facility highlighted the many upgraded features in the rebuild. There are labs, practice spaces and performance spaces.

“The students are not going to believe what we can offer them now,” Fischer said. “It was common to see students practicing in the hallways because there wasn’t special space for them to practice.”

A colorful entryway of painted ceiling tiles greets visitors to the wing. The tiles were painted by students.

Each magnet teacher had a hand in custom-designing what they needed and wanted in their desired space. Art teacher Nathaniel Melvin went from having no sink in his original art room at Westbury to a huge room with three sinks, a storage closet, and special work spaces with hanging outlets and special lights.

An enhanced part of the visual arts space is an outdoor, covered patio – an extension of the room where scenery for shows and other big art projects can be constructed and moved easily.

The long hallway just outside this art room is built as a future gallery with wires and hooks and special lighting for hanging students’ works of art.

Further down the wing are the performing arts rooms. The piano practice room boasts many pianos; smaller sound-proof practice rooms contain single pianos. Students can learn together and receive instruction in the large room, then practice in the smaller rooms.

Prior to the new wing, the dance space was not conducive to large group instruction as it was hampered by various obstructions. Now, in its place is a brand new large room with a wall of mirrors, a glistening, shiny wood dance floor, and no obstructions.

Westbury students in the various musical performance groups will enjoy a huge marching band room that has storage lockers, closets, and plenty of private practice room spaces. The ensemble band also has its own room. High above the room, on the perimeter is a display of trophy after trophy won by the music groups at the school. 

Fischer was excited to show the new auditorium theater space with brand new cushioned seating, special bright paint, an upgraded sound system, and higher ceilings and better lights. A walk behind the stage shows the funds put into the curtain work and the stage facing a beautiful and large comfortable theater.

“I can’t wait for our performances to start again to see this theater filled up,” Fischer said. 

A new addition is a larger and more state-of-the-art black box theater.

The new choir room has chairs on risers ordered in neat semi-circles and great acoustics to perfect vocal performance work.

Fischer said her magnet students are among the highest performing students at the school, including 2021 valedictorian Michelle Ejimofor and salutatorian Diego Garcia. The 10 teachers in the Performing and Visual Arts also participate professionally in their chosen fields and are great role models for the students.

“Now we just need all of our students back to school to enjoy all of this,” Fischer said, as only about 10 percent of students attended in person this year.

Contact the school at 713-723-6015 for a tour or more information on the magnet program.

— by Arlene Nisson Lassin