Hart, Bye stress importance of quality during times of growth


By Rebecca Canfield

Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted a lunch and learn session last Thursday at Santa Rita Ranch. The event, which included speeches from LHISD Superintendent Robert Hart and Liberty Hill High School Principle, Mario Bye, also gave chamber members the opportunity to have a question and answer session with the pair, who shared their vision for Liberty Hill’s future and addressed concerns from local business owners.

Hart began by discussing the ever present concerns with Liberty Hill’s increasing growth, and explained the plans surrounding the building of the new Rancho Sienna Elementary School. Hart explained that Liberty Hill was the 10th fastest growing school district in the Greater Austin area, and the third fastest growing school district percentage-wise. Just behind Jarrell and Lake Travis school districts in growth, Hart says that Liberty Hill ISD has seen 80 percent of the new growth in the last three school years alone.

The growth, Hart explained, presents several challenges for the district. However, Hart says that he has addressed those challenges by hiring talented individuals like Bye to take key positions in the district, a decision that Hart believes will help prepare the school for the many changes to come.

“With this kind of growth, what we needed was a principal with experience in a big school district in a big high school,” said Hart. “We were fortunate enough to hire Mario Bye from Katy ISD. Katy has had seven high schools that are all 6A, and number eight is under construction now … Mario was associate principal at Seven Lakes High School with four assistant principals under him. When we met him, we realized that he’s what we need at Liberty Hill High School. He’s got that vision.”

Bye, who has experience working in schools of all sizes, but particularly large ones, said the current growth in Liberty Hill closely mirrors the growth he experienced in Katy.

“The thing that parallels [is going] from a one high school district to a seven high school district. It’s the growth rate,” said Bye.

Currently Bye is enjoying working with a school one-third the size of Seven Lakes, because it allows both him and the students to get to know each other better. However, Bye knows this will not last, and is already gearing up for the big changes ahead. He explained that twice in his career he has worked in schools that had over 4,000 students. A fact that has him well prepared for what’s coming to Liberty Hill.

“I know what big feels like,” Bye said.

Right now, Bye says he’s trying to make himself as visible as possible, and has already visited every classroom. Bye also spent time at the football camp this summer, has attended the band practices, and is just getting out there and spending time with the kids, which Bye says will help him learn what the students value.

“You want the kids to know that you value what they do,” said Bye. “It’s the most important thing for any of us to do.”

Bye, who is a father of four, said that the best part of coming to Liberty Hill was seeing how his children are really flourishing here.

“My oldest daughter is a freshman at the high school, and she told me the other day, ‘You know how people always look for where the grass is greener on the other side? Well, we’ve found the green grass.’ She’s really loving it here,” said Bye.

Yet, Bye said his biggest vision for LHHS, is to build quality programs, and maintain the quality of each of the school’s programs regardless of school size.

“I want everything the students are involved in to be quality,” Bye explained. “Quality in the classrooms, quality in sports, in fine arts, and in whatever they do, I want to take the attitude that we need to be the flagship school of the area that we are in.”

Bye also discussed how program quality has a direct impact on both a student’s attendance and a student’s attitude toward school. Even the extra-curricular activities are vital and must be top notch, Bye said, because they have a tremendous impact on student motivation.

“I don’t want to establish a program that we can’t put our all into, and have a weak experience for the kids, because then they’re going to get turned off to a lot of things,” said Bye. “That extra-curricular sport, academic activity or club that they’re involved in, it’s a big thing that gets them coming to school every day. If it’s a lousy experience, their class isn’t going to go well. They’re experience isn’t going to be good, and then you’re going to lose a kid’s focus.”

However, Bye also mentioned another goal, which is to build upper level classes and advanced placement classes in an effort to better prepare students for a rigorous college experience. However, Bye was also impressed with the quality of the CTE (Career and Technical Education) labs at Liberty Hill.

“We’ve got some fantastic opportunities for kids in our CTE classes. Our culinary lab is the finest example of any 5A down to a 1A school around. In bigger districts, we’ve got one campus where several schools go for those experiences. Our kids just walk down the hall and they’ve got a world-class kitchen facility to learn in.”

Bye also said that the agriculture program will be expanding as well.

“It’s not just an intro to Ag class. It’s a whole vet tech lab that we’re building out this year. If you ever get a chance to see that, it’s fantastic,” said Bye. “The kids are going to be able to leave high school, and if they’re going to go to college to learn to do something else, they don’t have to just wait tables and do those kinds of college jobs. They are going to get to have some time as an actual vet tech and can work part time in a vet’s office … so they’ve had experience right out of high school. We’ve given them a top flight experience in anything that we do.

“We want to be good from college prep to career prep, and we want to be good in our extra-curricular activities as well,” Bye said.

“It’s not about the growth of one thing, it’s about the quality that we offer in everything that we do,” stated Bye. “I’m looking forward to some good years in the future for Liberty Hill High School.”