ABOVE: Venice High School was the recipient of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Safe Sports School award for their Sports Medicine Program.
Any bumps in the road that Venice High hit this year are now well and truly behind the school, and with a new principal and an exciting future ahead, no one seems that interested in wasting time looking in a rearview mirror.
Joining Venice High School for the fall semester is new principal Dr. Oryla Wiedoeft. Affectionately known as “Dr. O” by many at the school, Wiedoeft says Venice High is the best kept secret on the Westside.
“I said ‘Okay you guys it’s time to stop being such a good secret.’ Even when I applied to Venice High, I had no idea what a neat place it was. Everyday there’s something new, and I’m like, ‘really, we do that also?’ It’s awesome.”
The 2015 US News and World Report ranked Venice High among the best high schools, not only in California, but in the United States. Venice boasts more than 57 clubs, numerous sports teams, and a high enrollment of students in Advanced Placement courses.
“We’ve got these theme-based programs that provide an amazing, unique learning experience,” Wiedoeft said.
Venice High School was the recipient of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Safe Sports School award for their Sports Medicine Program.
“Every time we play a football game we have two UCLA doctors there in case our kids get, God forbid, bumped or if anything happens to them physically,” Wiedoeft said. “So we’re going to grow this into an academy and next year we’ll have our first 9th grade class of Sports Medicine kids.”
Recently the school was designated an amount of funding for renovations.
“We have a finite amount of money, but we’re definitely trying to maximize that funding to make it the nicest place for the kids and community that we can,” Wiedoeft said.
While there may not be enough money to do everything the school wants to do, like for example, renovating the pool, Wiedoeft said it’s about thinking outside the box.
“What’s another way we can go about it?” she asked. “I think it’s important to keep your mind open to other ways of getting the funding that you need to complete the project. So not being easily discouraged and exploring other options, whether that be a partnership with the YMCA because the biggest expense with having the pool is running the lifeguard. So how do you achieve your goal if the first try doesn’t work?”
Recently the school purchased a new scoreboard for the pool.
“We got a $15,000 new scoreboard. It didn’t come from the renovation money. It was our coach brainstorming, her thinking.
“I need this and I’ll find it this way.” So it’s about thinking what is our vision for the school and putting one foot in front of the other and let’s take it there for our kids,” Wiedoeft said.
Venice High School has an active alumni association that supports the school with $100,000 in scholarships each year.
The school has also benefited from the strength of the Venice community.
“One of the cool things to me about being in Venice is that the community is so supportive of the school,” she said. “I have yet to reach out to the community and say ‘Hey we really need this’ and have someone say ‘forget it.’ Everyone has been incredibly supportive.”
Google has provided $70,000 to the school over the past two years. Recently restaurants Gjusta and Gjelina offered to help renovate the school’s culinary arts room.
“As a school we don’t have $200,000 to spend on new stoves but they (Gjelina & Gjusta) do and that’s incredible. We’ve got the space, we’ve got the bones of it. We’ve got the teachers with the interest who will stay on their own time and volunteer. We’ve got the incredible garden to grow the produce we need,” Wiedoeft said.
The partnership with Gjusta and Gjelina came to the school via one of the teachers. Wiedoeft said that the commitment from the school’s teachers is another strength the school has to draw upon.
“Our teaching staff is wonderful,” Wiedoeft said. “Everyone is offering to do extra and everyone wants to bring something that they’re passionate about to the table and people are teaming together and doing incredible things.”
It’s not just the teachers who are bringing ideas to the table for new and exciting eduction opportunities. Wiedoeft says it’s important to constantly keep asking the students, “What do you guys need to be happy? What are you guys interested in? What can we bring in for you that will engage you at school?”
Wiedoeft said that seeing the “kids all charged about learning” is a great thing.
“We have a lot of computer programming classes and the kids are asking for gaming classes. There’s a gaming major at USC, I’m a USC Alum, so I just reached out to them last week to see if they might like to partner with us so we can have a gaming pathway for the kids. If it’s the kids interest, why would you not cater to what they are passionate about and build on that?” Wiedoeft said.
Wiedoeft’s passion for listening to the needs of her students and innovative approach to developing an inspired learning environment came from her days as a student at a zoo magnate school in North Hollywood.
“My teachers were the group that started it. They collaborated, it was their vision to create this zoo school. It was an incredible school. My freshman year at college was way easier than my final year of high school. My high school teachers were on us, but it was so fun and engaging and they would ask us “We’re thinking we can offer you guys computer programming or genetic engineering. Where’s your interest?” So at Venice we definitely take into consideration what the kids want and what they’re interested in,” Wiedoeft said.
Taking into consideration what the students want from their school even has staff contemplating the possibility of building a skatepark on the school grounds.
“I mean how cool would that be, we’re where skateboarding started. A couple of the other LA Unified schools, when they went through renovations, they got skateparks. The school kind of is a skatepark on the weekends anyway,” Wiedoeft said.
Over 100 years old, Venice High School has a storied history, but from here on in it seems an inspiring new chapter is about to be written. One that will see the Westside’s best kept secret doesn’t stay that way for much longer.