By: Kathryn Ho, Katiana Kostoff, Jaymie Miller

2021 has brought new changes to West Hills. As 2020 concluded, we wished our beloved principal, Rob Durecka, our heartfelt best wishes as he celebrates his retirement. 

Since 2013, Principal Durecka has served as the principal of West Hills Middle School. Before joining West Hills, his first job during college was at the United Parcel Service. He even drove a UPS truck! Afterward, he held numerous roles in teaching, education, and administration over the past several decades.

Mr. Durecka became principal because he loves working with kids. “I think it is true that our future depends on how we educate our youth because they will soon be the leaders in a very short time,” remarked Durecka.

The current Interim Principal, Andy Gignac, has known Durecka for 12 years. “He is such a lovable guy. He has a really good heart, and he is such a caring person,” declared Mr. Gignac.

Some of Principal Durecka’s favorite memories have been participating in the dunk tank event during the fifth-grade carnivals, going to concerts, and singing ‘Hound Dog’ with the band. 

Mr. Durecka is proud of the Warrior Fund and the Washington DC trip. He is also proud of standards-based grading. “The whole notion of, it’s not where you begin, it’s where you end is something I am proud of,” he asserts.

His favorite part of being principal is celebrating the successes of teachers and students. Mr. Durecka loves watching the fourth graders come into the classroom for the first time, eyes wide open, looking at West Hills like a castle. He also loves watching the spelling bees, school concerts, and seeing students change and grow.

When Principal Durecka first started in administration, a lot of his work was on building schedules, discipline, and managing the facility. “It has moved a whole lot more to instructional leadership and providing the best teaching and learning,” reports Durecka. He is happy to be a part of that evolution.

We have all learned so much from Principal Durecka, but he has gained a lot of experience and knowledge. “I have learned that I try to listen first,” Durecka shares. “I learned over time that I want to reserve my ‘no.'”

“He is a really, really good listener,” Principal Gignac says. “Which I think is a huge skill to have as a good communicator. He really wants to see the best for everyone.”

Leah Abel, former PTO President and mother of three students who attended West Hills, shares, “Principal Rob Durecka was a trailblazer in many ways. He established the Warrior Fund, which supports students who may not have resources such as field trip money, to ensure that every student within West Hills has equitable opportunities.”

“He consistently supported PTO events with his time, energy, and presence, demonstrating his dedication to a strong sense of community. Most of all, Principal Durecka always had a smile and a kind word to share with every member of the community, from staff to students, to family members,” observes Abel. “He made every person feel seen and heard.” 

Principal Durecka was initially considering retiring last year, but with the numerous changes due to the COVID pandemic and new virtual learning platform, Durecka wanted to stay to help with the transition. He is looking forward to the next phase of his life and wants to explore new opportunities and interests. 

“I want to try some new stuff,” he says. “I have this thirst to see and go and do and explore a little bit more, and this will give me the time to do that.”

“I am looking forward to some new challenges,” Durecka adds. “I want to read more for pleasure.” He also wants to take part in new experiences like learning a new language.  

Mr. Durecka is looking forward to playing golf. He likes to enjoy himself and has a sense of humor. “He is a funny guy. I really enjoyed laughing alongside him,” Gignac shares.

He also enjoys spending time with family. Principal Durecka is looking forward to traveling with them. He is still going to be engaged in our community by potentially helping out with anti-bullying programs. He still wants to be involved and a contributor to society even in retirement.

“I am going to miss the energy that comes from being in a school,” Durecka reports. “Students see the world as something they can change, and that is right, they can change it.” He loves to watch kids interact with their teachers and listen to students play their instruments and sing.

Principal Durecka is very confident that he will return to West Hills. He would love to visit students and teachers. He also plans to try and visit during events, like spelling bees, concerts, and plays. “I will be here again at some point, for sure,” he says. “I will come and check-in on concerts and school events. I am not dying; I am just retiring,” he jokes.

Mr. Durecka has contributed so much to our school. He has helped our school and taught us so much. “He is such a good person,” observes Mr. Gignac. He is there for you if you need advice or any help.” 

“I would like to be remembered as someone approachable and who cared a lot about kids, education, the staff, and the community,” shares Principal Durecka. “And that you could depend on me.”

West Hills will miss Principal Durecka, and we hope he has a safe and healthy retirement. We will celebrate his impact and legacy at West Hills for years to come.