Nick Phillips didn’t always imagine himself as an educator. In elementary school, he wanted to be an airline pilot.

But a fourth-grade social studies teacher left such an impression on a young Phillips that he later became a social studies teacher. Eventually, a few administrators at Odom Academy inspired him to take on a leadership role, where he felt he could better support teachers and students.

So, although he remained on the ground, he helped his students to soar.

Phillips has been principal of West Brook High School for two years, but has worked at Beaumont ISD for more than a decade, both in the classroom and at the administrative level.

He’s so beloved, in fact, that a reader asked that we speak to him for our “7 Questions” series.

We sat down with Phillips and talked about his job and all it means to him:

Q: Are there parts of your job as a director that people might not realize are part of your job?

A: A lot. We laugh, the other administrators and myself — we’ll have something happening on campus and we look at each other and say, ‘Well, that wasn’t in our classes.’ There are many things you do. This year, for example, with the new metal detectors, being in the middle of this every morning and supporting the team as a campus manager, (I) never thought we would have gotten to the point where we had to check bags for school security. But it’s something we have to do. We get here early in the morning and we all go there and take care of it to make sure everyone is safe.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects of your job? How do you approach them?

A: See the potential in children, but they don’t see it in themselves. (I try) to reach these children who we know have great potential, but they are faced with other things. Just to be a constant in their lives and to be a support and a role model for these children. It’s difficult because often we can see the potential in children, but they’re not there yet to see it themselves.

It’s about building relationships. You get to know your children. That’s probably one of the things I miss about the class is really getting to know my kids. When you have 180 children you teach every year, you get to know them well. Now I have 2,300 children, so I don’t know them either. But I make it a point to get to know them, just by being in the hallway, in the cafeteria at breakfast and lunch and at different after-school events and learning to make those connections, to build those relationships . And once you’ve really built that relationship with the kid and he knows that you really care about him, that you’re not just there for a paycheck, then he’ll open up and he’ll start to share their struggles, aspirations and dreams with you. Then from there you can find out how you can best support the whole child.

Q: How do you balance trying to be the support system for your students, but also being an authority figure when needed?

A: For me, it’s just being consistent. Lay out these expectations at the beginning of the year with the children, then follow them. Because our kids just want structure and consistency, and this year when we came back it was the first time we had all of our kids back in two years. Last year (the 2020-21 school year), we only saw about 30% of our children. We therefore had to face many expectations in terms of rehabilitation. What is expected of the student while at school.

It’s just being consistent with those expectations. The door to my field office, that door is standing open longer than it probably has in 30 years. And that gives me the opportunity, if there’s a kid walking down the hall, to stop and ask them where they’re going and start building that relationship. Because then they know, ‘OK, he sees us in the hallway when we’re not supposed to be.’ But it is not a question of reprimanding them on the spot. It’s about having a conversation, ‘Where are you supposed to be? Alright, let’s go,” and I’ll walk them to class without making a big scene out of it. Remember that kids are dealing with stuff, especially now after COVID.

Q: What are some of your favorite parts of your job?

A: Graduation is probably the highlight because we see the kids we’ve been working with for four years. Those who really struggled and maybe just got by and got to see them cross the stage. Usually, the teachers and the administrative team applaud them a little louder because we know what they went through to get there. But even our best kids, it’s great to see where they go to the next level.

Just look at where our kids are going, whether it’s four-year college, junior college, the military, and now with our program (Career and Technical Education), if they have a full CTE program certification, (they go) right into the workforce. That’s probably the highlight of being the school principal, is shaking hands with every kid.

Other highlights are – I’m a people watcher, I can just watch your kids at lunch and breakfast and be able to walk around and talk to them. You don’t think they are paying attention to what you are doing, but they are listening. Every morning, I make the announcements. I tell them, ‘If no one else tells you today, Mr. Phillips loves you.’ Well I don’t think they listen but they do because there were a few times where I was rushed and just hung up the phone without saying so and when I reached the hallway , they’re quick to remind me, ‘Hey, you didn’t tell us you loved me today.’ A few times I was able to go back on the PA system and tell them, then it’s a joke at lunch.

Q: You are also part of the Nederland ISD school board. I imagine most of your time revolves around education, so what do you enjoy doing outside of education?

A: My wife and I love to travel — we are foodies. We drive to Houston for dinner every chance we get. Our biggest thing is just to travel. We love going out to new places and seeing new things. But we also have some of our favorite places we love to go back to. We have a permanent rule: when we go out of town, we cannot eat wherever we have premises. It’s fun to find new places and try new things, but we have repeated places we want to go. .

Q: I know you are a proud Bulldog (for Nederland ISD) in addition to your love for Beaumont ISD – how do you balance the pride you have for these two districts?

A: It’s not as difficult as some people think. Both are great neighborhoods, both have great things going on there. But when I’m here in Beaumont, I’m a proud Bruin. And when I’m in the Netherlands, I’m a proud Bulldog.

It’s unique – I’m starting my 13th year in the school board (in the Netherlands) and I started while I was still a teacher, so I got to see how the decisions made by a school board affect the class because they make it over time. Then, as I moved into an administrative role, I can take what I learned as a school board member and apply it to that role because I know what I need to do here to keep this from happening. before the board because at the end of the day, we want to solve the problems at the campus level.

But through the work of the school board, I’ve had the opportunity to look at different campuses across the state, different districts across the state and I’ve been able to borrow these best ideas and bring them back to this campus and to this district. As I said, the balance is not that difficult because at the end of the day it’s about the children and it’s about making sure that all of our children get a free public education and good quality.

Q: Since you have been an administrator, what is the story that has always marked you?

A: When I was in Odom, we had a young man who was in the Pegasus program. He was from Guatemala. He had an older brother who was heavy in gangs. This student decided that he was going to follow a different path than his older brother. While at Odom, he earned his high school credits and entered West Brook as sophomore – this was the 2010-11 school year.

He was on the football team and in practice, suffered a head injury and had to go to Texas Children’s Hospital. Anyway, they went for brain surgery and found out he had leukemia. Then he passed.

I came (to West Brook) the following year, but this group of friends – I call them my Odom babies – they honored him every day while they were here. They were raising it, and at graduation, they were making a big deal out of it. It marked me.

He went to Washington DC with me. I took kids to Washington every year during their eighth year and found out that his parents had to take out a loan to pay for the trip. Then, tragically, he lost his life. But the relationship that these kids have, and there’s always a small group of friends that I follow on Facebook.

I think that really impressed me. Just his drive and his desire to do better than what his brother had done because his parents had emigrated here and they had come here for him to get a better education. And I guess one of the reasons that really affected me was because that’s what my dad did. My dad left Honduras when he was 13 and moved here and went to school and he always impressed us: “Go to school.

So this kid really impressed me and it’s been over 10 years. I have a photo of him (on my desk). This child and his story, even if it’s tragic, that’s really what it’s about – it’s about connecting with children and pushing them to do better so they can to improve.

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