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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Redefining Roles: Students Adapt to Faculty Changes in Fine Arts Department

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  • The choir sings under the guidance of Choir Director Andre Clark with new Assistant Choir Director Emma deGraaf playing the piano.

  • Dancers stretch in preparation for choreography and dancing.

  • In front of the class, new SunDancer Director Emily Petrunak leads her academy class in stretching and warmups.

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As students trickled into the fine arts wing at the beginning of the school year,  the dance studios had an unfamiliar aura, the orchestra hall resonated with a different tone than before, and the choir room had a new, foreign atmosphere. At the end of the 2022-2023 school year, the fine arts department lost six of its esteemed directors, propelling students from each department to adapt to organizational changes and redefine their roles with a new set of directors. 


The dance department took a major hit from this change with the entirety of the dance faculty leaving. As the Warrior Pride and SunDancers found themselves without instructors, many students were nervous but found themselves adapting quickly. 

“Just having new dance teachers is kind of hard to get to know them and feel  comfortable,” Warrior Pride member Kyra Jackson ‘24 said. “[It] has been hard to adjust to, but they’ve all been really nice and welcoming.” 

Stylistically, this change has been a cause for growth in many of the students. On top of the fresh faces, they have also had to contend with new teaching styles and methods.

“Our old directors were rather unconventional,” a Warrior Pride member said. “Our directors now definitely teach more traditionally, and it will take some getting used to.”

Despite these changes, some students embrace the change: first-year SunDancer Lexi Laughlin ‘26 notes that for her long history in dance, team director changes are normal, and being on the SunDancers is no different. In fact, she finds that new teachers provide an opportunity to learn something new. 

“Ms. Loper and Ms. Steedley are really great choreographers, but I still like that we learn from teachers [whose] choreography we haven’t had yet,” Laughlin said. 

Regardless of the new opportunities, students remain nostalgic about their past connections and hope that the new environment will live up to their memory of the old one. 

“I [dislike] having to say goodbye to the people I was really close to,” Jackson said. “[However,] once you get to know the directors it’s a lot better. I’m finding new people to inspire me.”


Mr. Justin Anderson conducted two of Westwood’s five performing orchestras, as well as previously serving as the Director of Orchestras at Grisham Middle School. Having been part of the program for eight years, Mr. Anderson left a lasting impact on his students and the program as a whole.

“Mr. Anderson had a very unique personality that was beloved by every orchestra member,” Orchestra Junior Vice President Nirvik Pande ‘25 said. “It’s definitely going to be a little bit different.”

Taking five orchestras to UIL each year, the orchestra program has a history of competitive success and academic excellence. Philharmonic 4 is one of Westwood’s sub-non-varsity orchestras that is now conducted by Mrs. Colleen Whatley, an esteemed director in her own right.  She taught strings for 15 years and received invitations to play at festivals, such as Music for All. 

“Because Westwood orchestra is such an amazing program, it’s not like one change will bring us down,” Pande said. “I think UIL is not going to be affected.”

All in all, orchestra students strive to uphold the program’s tradition of excellence by adapting to these new changes and holding themselves to the high standards expected of their program.


Mx. Emma deGraaf stepped up to replace Ms. Robin King as the Assistant Choir Director. They rotate between Westwood and Round Rock High School, co-teaching classes here on White days.

“Losing [Ms. King] is definitely a big hit to the program,” Vice President of Events Minsung Kim ‘25 said. “But I think that our new director is doing a really great job at filling those shoes that Ms. King left.” 

The choir program is also known for competitive success, with many students making the All-State Choir. Furthermore, the choir program takes four choirs to UIL each year and has a history of earning high ratings. Most students feel that this record will not change, due to Mx. deGraaf’s expertise.

“At the end of the day, as UIL season arrives, I think that it’ll feel normal,” Kim said. “I can’t imagine how much help [Mx. deGraaf] will be to us at that point.”

To most of the students, music is incredibly subjective, and for them, having multiple viewpoints can be beneficial to the overall outcome of performances, such as the choir’s end-of-year show, Playlist. Given Ms. King and Mr. Clark’s contrasting backgrounds, their distinct perspectives were helpful to their students. 

“Having different perspectives helped balance [the classroom] out,” choir memberNina Jovanovic ‘25 said. “But [Mx. deGraaf] has a very similar perspective [to Ms. King] for music and Playlist and those kinds of things.” 

Overall, the choir program remains unfazed by these changes, and choir students feel that their future is bright.

“Although it’ll take time to get used to the transition, I feel that everything will be okay in the end,” Kim said. “It’ll take some time to adjust, but we’ll be up and running at the same pace as before in no time.”

All in all, although fine arts at Westwood has changed significantly, students will continue to strive for success at the highest level in their respective programs, albeit under different guidance than before. 

Kim recaps the effects best.

“Although it is a big change, Westwood students are really strong and they’re really resilient,” Kim said. “With enough time and enough adaptation from both students and teachers, we’ll be back to our maximum potential soon this year.”


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Bella Yi
Bella Yi, Reporter
Class of 2026 Howdy!! I’m excited to be on student press this year and can’t wait to create for the Horizon and Heritage. In my free time, you can find me playing video games, playing piano, baking, painting, and cracking bad jokes.
Avi Rajesh
Avi Rajesh, Reporter
Class of 2025
Hi! I've always loved photo and video editing, and I'm super excited to be a part of student press. A couple of my hobbies involve cooking, baking, and robotics. In my free time I love to listen to music, play the cello, and drink bubble tea!

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