New principal Bye ready to lead LHHS through changes that come with growth
By Lauren Jette
Although incoming Liberty Hill High School Principal Mario Bye doesn’t officially start his new job until July, he is already preparing for a busy school year.
“The way I like to do things is I’m really visible. I’m going to be out at the kids’ events, I’m going to be in classrooms, so that’s the first thing you’ll see about me,” Bye said.
“The kids and teachers will see me a whole lot. I think that’s really important for the new guy on the block to be out there and be accessible. That’s what I really like about what I do, is I get to be out with young people all day long and it keeps me young. That’s fun and that’s why I keep doing this. They’re going to see me a whole lot, interacting and being involved.”
Bye is filling the head principal position after principal Bobby Mabry accepted a newly-created Human Resources Director position in central administration. The school board approved Bye’s employment on May 16.
Bye said he is looking forward to meeting all the students and interacting with them.
“I like to use a little bit of humor, I like to be enthusiastic and I like to ask kids how they are doing, what they’re working on, how are things going,” Bye said.
“If I’m in a classroom, of course, I was a science teacher, so if I walk into a science class with a lab going on, I’m going to go stick my head in a lab group. I might put on goggles if it’s required, because that’s a safety rule, but I’m going to go ask them, ‘hey, what are you doing? Show me that.’
“If I’m going out to practice, I might even sneak in and grab the ball at some point,” he added.
“I want to be involved with what they are doing. I didn’t play every sport when I was in school growing up, so to be able to go out and interact with all these kids doing all these different things, I get a little taste of all that and live vicariously through them.”
By showing an interest in the students, Bye believes that forms a connection to keep kids interested in school.
“That’s a big thing that kids really want. They want to know that you’re taking an interest in them and that helps keep them connected with school,” Bye said.
“Then when you start doing that and making that connection, it will support what you do with them in the classroom. That connection comes first, then you can teach them some reading, writing and arithmetic.”
Born in Indiana and raised in Chicago until his parents moved him and his younger sister to Houston when he was in fifth grade, Bye grew up in the Katy school district, graduating from James E. Taylor High School in 1987. From there, Bye obtained his accounting degree from the University of Houston.
After spending a year at a major accounting firm, Bye realized he didn’t like sitting in a windowless room pouring over numbers all day, every day. So he picked up a substitute teaching job at his old high school, while he went back to school to figure out what he really wanted to do.
“One of the (assistant principals) pulled me in his office and said, ‘hey, you seem to like this and you seem to be pretty good at it, so you can keep going to school if you want, or you can go get your alternative certification and in a year, you can start earning a paycheck to do this.’ I did it and pretty much have made a career of it ever since then. I tried not to, but now it’s just what I know. This is it.”
Bye started as a science teacher at his alma mater in 1996 before spending seven years at Langham Creek High School in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in Houston as an academic achievement specialist and science teacher.
Starting in 2006, Bye served as a grade level assistant principal at Seven Lakes High School in Katy. For the last six years, he has served as associate principal at Seven Lakes.
“It just kind of worked out well that I had worked in Katy before, and Cy-Fair, so I still had a lot of friends when Seven Lakes High School opened and I was able to land a job there,” Bye said. “I couldn’t pass that up. It’s a good district and it’s turned into a great campus and I got to be a part of that for 10 years.”
After commuting 43 miles from Bellville, where he and his wife, Deanna, and their four children live, to Katy every day for the last decade, Bye decided it was time for him and his family to make a transition to a place where they could all be in the same school district.
“It’s hard to leave Seven Lakes because it’s a great place, great people, great kids, but it’s a good time for my family to make a transition before my oldest starts high school. Good time to make a jump. So that’s why I looked around a little bit.”
Deanna Bye will join the junior high staff as a science teacher. Bye said his wife is very excited to be making the move to Liberty Hill as well. Also making the move are their four children, two boys and two girls, who will attend Liberty Hill schools.
“When we start school, the oldest one (will be) in ninth grade, one in eighth grade, and then in sixth grade and in fourth grade. So I’ll have one at the high school with me.”
Being at the same campus as his children is another reason Bye wanted to come to Liberty Hill.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, it’s just something I’ve never been in the position of… we didn’t want to move into the craziness of Katy or Houston, and I just hadn’t found a place like I’ve found now where I could be in that position,” he explained. “I have a number of friends and colleagues who have had their own children at Seven Lakes and it’s a real blessing to be able to do that and be real close. I’m going to have to tell myself, stay away, hands off and let her have all of her high school experiences. But just to know that we’re all in the same place, doing the same thing, sort of the same schedule is just… I’ve seen other people do it and just really enjoy it.”
After interviewing for the position, Bye said he got in his car and drove around Liberty Hill to get a feel for the town and was excited by all the growth potential in the area.
“I’m really excited about the way you can just look around and see the growth that’s coming. Where I have worked in Katy, from the time I was a student until now, nothing but growth,” he said. “When I was a student, Katy opened its third high school and now, as I’m an associate principal, they are opening their eighth. At Seven Lakes, I got there in the second year, and it went from 1,500 to 4,000 students, so I’ve seen the whole range. So with that background, I come here and I see that this is on the early edge of what Katy has gone through.”
While that kind of growth might worry some, Bye sees how much planning and preparing the district has already done and says that is a good thing.
“What I’m most excited about is there has been so much planning and preparation and forethought about what is going into what this whole community is doing,” Bye said. “The campuses are great facilities and lots of space and things for kids to utilize, which is great, because not all 4A districts are going to have what this district has. So some real good planning has gone into that.
“But then just looking at the old, downtown area in Liberty Hill, I see some potential there,” he added. “Somewhere along the line, it’s going to be a cool destination for people from Austin to get away from the city. There’s cool things in the future.”
A big thing that will help him make an impact at Liberty Hill is that comfort and familiarity with growth, and all that comes with it.
“I think the biggest thing, is that I’m comfortable with it. It’s not going to come as a surprise to me when a couple dozen or hundred kids start showing up. I’m used to that,” Bye said. “Also, I’m very used to kids showing up and then their parents get transferred and they go, so as we grow more and more here in Liberty Hill, students are going to come and go more and more and you help them with the transition. You get kids welcomed in and if they are going somewhere else, help them as they go and get them their records and everything else they need to get them down the road.”
With the increase and fluidity of student numbers, comes more problems to tackle in terms of hiring more staff, adding more class options and putting together a master schedule that works well.
“Also, as the school grows too, we’re going to have to look at, do we add new programs, new clubs, do we add new teachers, how do we do that? How does our master schedule grow? It’s everything from hiring new personnel to the nuts and bolts of how does the school day flow from first period to seventh period. It’s a human side, in addition to that mechanical side of everything.”
At Seven Lakes, there was a principal over the whole school, an associate principal, a student-support assistant principal and four grade-level principals.
“My primary thing as the associate, was working on the master schedule for 185 teachers. That’s a big task,” Bye said.
“I really enjoyed that, solving and figuring puzzles out suits my nature really well, but there’s also a human side to that as well. Who are you going to put teaching your classes together? Who is going to teach Geometry? Which teachers mix well together? There’s the human side and the mechanical side to what we do there as well,” Bye said. “In a lot of ways, the associate principal is the guy who keeps the ship afloat while the principal is out setting the course. The principal is the one establishing what the culture is going to be, the rest of us have the task of helping put everything in place and making it all work.”
Currently, there are two assistant principals at the high school, so Bye knows he will be adjusting to working at a smaller school than he’s coming from.
“Coming here, there’s a different balance in all that. There’s going to be different people involved in doing some of those things. Maybe not necessarily an administrator, may have to look at different leadership people, department chairs, counselors, coaches, all are going to have some different input,” Bye said. “One of the first things is going to be figuring out who can do what and how that all fits together with a smaller team. It’s a smaller school, with almost as many programs because there’s almost as many sports, as many clubs, we’ve got less people to spread around and monitor everything.”
While the priority is to make a connection with the students, Bye also considers teacher support just as important.
“I’m as interested in what they do as much as I’m interested in what the kids do. We’re all in this thing together so we all have to take an interest in each other,” Bye said. “One of my biggest roles as a principal is to support the teachers and we all have to be a teacher-centered administrator because the teachers are teaching the kids every day. Everything we do is with the kids’ best interest in mind, but I have to be able to support the teachers.
“Then there’s also the morale side, it’s got to be a fun place for you to go to work every day,” he added. “When we grow up and have to go to work, a lot of days, you spend more time with your work colleagues than with your family. You better enjoy it, because if you don’t, it’s miserable, so I want it to be a fun place to come to work. I want some enthusiasm and excitement for being around kids all day and each other all day.”
Bye’s vision for Liberty Hill is to be the example other schools try to live up to.
“Vision for me as a principal anywhere I go, is I want everything that we do in the school to be something of quality. So that anytime a kid comes in and says I want to do that, I want to do that sport, I want to be in that club, they have something quality to go into and their needs are met and it’s a quality choice to go to,” he said. “If they go into something and it’s not very good, then they are going to be discouraged and they are going to lose their connection with school and that’s when we lose them. I want them to all have quality choices to go to.
“Then I want other schools around to be able to say, ‘we’re got to do that like Liberty Hill’s doing that’. I want them to take notice, so that means we’ve got to be not spread too thin, but we also have to have enough choices so that the kids all have something to do, so there’s plenty of things for them to chose from.
“If it’s all quality, we can get as many of them connected as we can get. It’s kind of a total approach. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony, but I don’t want to be a mile wide and an inch deep either.”
Athletics is important to any small town in Texas, but Liberty Hill has more than just a strong athletic program, something Bye appreciates.
“Athletics are important, but some kids aren’t athletes. They are going to compete, but at spelling or social studies or math or computer science or those UIL academic events,” he said. “Athletics obviously, in every small town, athletics is important. Living in Bellville, I know that. I’ve got to show support for all those programs, so really, my first year I’m going to be at a lot of stuff.
“Fortunately, my daughter is in band, so I’ve got a couple programs covered right there: band, cheerleading, dance team, football. I’ll be at all those things right off the bat, then I’ve got to make time for volleyball games. I just have to be at a lot of things and be very involved and go to UIL things.”
Sports alone will keep Bye very busy, but he wants to be all events involving Liberty Hill students throughout the school year.
“They are going to know that I am going to be at a whole lot of stuff. That way I see what they need, but they see me out there supporting all of them. It will be tough that first year, but my wife understands that,” Bye said.
Being a high school principal means that Bye gets to witness all sorts of student accomplishments, from outstanding test scores to state championships in sports and academic events. While those are great, he said it’s the smaller, less publicized student accomplishments that he considers the best part of his job.
“It can be a little thing like… Just this year, I had a kid who wanted to drop a class way after he should have been dropping any class, a math class. I stuck with our procedure and I said no, we’re so far into this semester, this is not when we drop classes,” Bye explained. “He pitched a fit and cried and whined about it, but I told him how it was going to benefit him when he went to college next year, to tough it out and do it now because he would be that much further along as a freshman. He came up to me a few weeks later and he had made an 85 on his quiz. That was a huge accomplishment for that kid. So little victories like that make it worthwhile.”
The Star Wars and Rolling Stones fan will finish out his contract with Seven Lakes in June, but hopes to get his family to Liberty Hill soon thereafter, so that his kids can get enrolled in their sports camps here to start meeting people, he said.
Instead of reading books, Bye used his hour-long commute to listen to books on CD, or listen to podcasts, he said.
“My kids got me a book that I need to read now that it’s summer,” he said. “It’s a young adult book, but my kids knew I would like it, because it’s about two young kids investigating a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house and I like his architecture and we had been through some of his houses last summer, so they found a book about that.”