A Year-Two Photo Tour of West Plains High School
A few days before the start of the 2023-2024 school year, Principal Eric Gomez leads a group through the halls of West Plains High School. The floors are sparkling. The abundant glass surfaces are clean. Images of the school’s wolf mascot adorn multiple walls. The space even smells good—like a high-end hotel or conference center.
But Gomez is telling a story about elephants. A visitor passed through an area where elephants were being trained, the educator explains. He saw these enormous creatures held in place by a thin rope staked to the ground. The elephants were strong enough to break free from the rope whenever they wanted, but the rope kept them there.
“What keeps the elephants in place?” the visitor asked a trainer. As the story goes, the elephants were confined from an early age by the smallest rope necessary to hold them. As babies, they couldn’t break the rope, so they stopped pulling against it. The rope held them back when they were small, so they assumed it would still contain them as five-ton adults.
In other words, the elephants learned helplessness.
“They stop trying,” Gomez says. “I told our staff at the very beginning that we want to break the rope.”
Within earshot of the story, someone else says of the West Plains facility, “This just doesn’t feel like Amarillo.”
Gomez agrees. That’s what happens when you break the rope.
In 2018, Canyon Independent School District voters, who live in Randall County from Canyon into the southwest part of Amarillo, approved a nearly $200 million bond election. Passing the bond set off a flurry of new construction within the district, including two new elementary schools (Heritage Hills and Spring Canyon), substantial renovations to Happy State Bank Stadium, the construction of a career and technology center, and other infrastructure investments.
The Randall High School West Campus saw major renovations and expansion, and the former Randall East Campus was transformed into Randall Junior High School.
But the shining gem of the new funding was the brand-new West Plains High School. Located at 10576 Arden Road—right outside the Loop and still mostly surrounded by empty space—the new high school was the result of several years of planning and construction.
It left Gomez, a 17-year educator, with the task of launching the city’s first new high school in decades. Everything, from hiring staff and faculty to deciding where to put the trash cans, fell under his authority. “No one had been on campus yet,” he says of the 2022 start of the first year. “No freshman should have been nervous [last year], because everyone was new.”
With year one under his belt and the second West Plains school year about to begin, Gomez guided Brick & Elm through his favorite parts of the still-new campus.