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Waelder High School students taking advantage of VC Gonzales Center's opportunities

Ron 2 Ron Lilie became the principal at Waelder High School in 2013.

One of Ron Lilie’s biggest challenges as a high school principal is helping his students overcome the fear of “What’s next?”

“A lot of our kids here come from families who have never had anyone go to college,” said Lilie, who has been Waelder High School’s principal since 2013. “Their parents can’t tell them what to expect, so the students are kind of scared to be the ones in their families to take that next step.”

Lilie has seen some of those fears and apprehensions in his students subside as more have taken advantage of higher education opportunities just down the road.

“Having Victoria College’s Gonzales Center nearby has helped our students so much,” Lilie said. “Our students know they don’t have to go too far from home to take that next step.”

Lilie speaks from experience when he recommends a community college as a place for his students to begin their journey in higher education. Lilie grew up in a town similar in size to Waelder (pop. 1,121) and attended nearby Wharton County Junior College for two years before transferring to the University of Houston.

“My grades were good in high school, but the idea of going to a bigger college was a little scary for me at the time,” Lilie said. “Plus, I worked in Eagle Lake, so it wasn’t that far for me to commute back and forth.”

Lilie’s mother, Geraldine, inspired him to remain in college and finish what he began.

“My mom attended nursing school at a community college, and I would see her go to class every night,” Lilie said. “It showed me that if she could do it, while working full time and being a single parent, I could do it, too.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Ashford University, Lilie taught in the Flatonia and Schulenburg school districts before coming to Waelder seven years ago.

“I accepted an offer to become director of postsecondary education here,” Lilie said. “Then, from there, I moved into being the secondary principal.”

According to Lilie, 92 percent of Waelder ISD students are designated as “at-risk,” which means they require temporary or ongoing intervention to succeed academically. But despite that high number, almost half of the current senior class is enrolled in dual-credit courses with Victoria College’s Gonzales Center.

“Percentage-wise, that is huge, and it’s becoming a normal thing here as our students depend more and more on Victoria College,” Lilie said. “Our students identify quite a bit with Victoria College. The Gonzales Center is close to home (18 miles), and is small and local. That takes a lot of the fear away from the first-generation college students. They can get all their education and training there, or take what they gain there and move on to a four-year university.”

Lilie recently became a member of the Victoria College Gonzales Center’s advisory committee. He said being a part of the committee allows him to be an advocate for not only the needs of Waelder High School students, but high school students throughout the area.

“I am able to stay up to date with what Victoria College is doing and what direction the Gonzales Center is going,” Lilie said. “I think Victoria College appreciates my input as a high school administrator. Together, I believe we can make sure we are serving all of the needs of our students.”

by Coy Slavik, Communications Specialist, Victoria College