UT Dallas Magazine

Educator Helps Students’ Dreams Take Flight

man sitting on wing of an airplane

Homer Webb BS’01 finally pursued his childhood dream of becoming a pilot after an insightful question from an unlikely source: a sixth-grader.

“I had a student who knew I loved planes. He’d see me reading airplane books and magazines during the planning period,” said Webb, who at the time had just embarked on his teaching career. “One day he asked a profound question: ‘How are you going to tell us to believe things are possible and to chase our dreams when you didn’t chase yours?’”

The query struck a nerve. So Webb rolled up his sleeves and earned his pilot’s license. It’s a never-give-up-on-your-dreams story that he uses 15 years later to inspire at-risk students.

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Not everyone is cut out to be an educator, let alone at an alternative school. Webb is an exception. He wants to be there. He requested it, actually.

After earning a degree from UT Dallas in public affairs, Webb taught at a Dallas elementary school in Oak Cliff, the same neighborhood where he grew up.

He joined DeSoto Independent School District in 2005 as an assistant principal. But a few years later, Webb had become restless, and he asked his bosses about joining the district’s alternative school. “My experience had only been with elementary students at the time. The administrators were looking at me like, ‘Are you crazy? You won’t survive.’”

But he was adamant. Webb has since spent nine years with the DeSoto Alternative Education Program, where he works with middle and high school students who are having problems with discipline or grades. Part of his mission is to keep his students from giving up on their ambitions — a goal that mirrors his own personal journey.

Webb considered joining the U.S. Air Force after high school before deciding to pursue a career in law enforcement. Perhaps he’d end up flying police helicopters, he thought.

While working on his degree at UTD, Webb got a job at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. It was more eye-opening than he had anticipated.

“I had some experiences seeing juvenile offenders coming into adult jail. They were getting charged and convicted as adults,” he recalled.

“I decided that rather than being on the tail end of the process — law enforcement — I wanted to help stem the tide of these juveniles coming into adult situations.”
— Homer Webb BS’01

So he flipped the script and became an educator, beginning as a teacher and working his way up to the principal post at DeSoto’s alternative school.

Webb uses his story to get through to students, who sometimes think a 40-year-old, well-kempt principal can’t relate to their life situations.

“Then I tell them I’m from Oak Cliff,” he said. “Based on my environment, I should have ended up with a different outcome, but I was blessed to go through the Gifted and Talented program in Dallas [ISD], and that exposed me to opportunities that weren’t always available in my community. I tell them the world is bigger than what they see daily.”

Case in point — the sixth-grader who gave him the impetus to learn to fly.

“It was ironic,” he said. “That student ended up transferring to DeSoto when I was an administrator at the high school. He enrolled in an aviation program we started and learned how to fly, too.”

While he isn’t in the air as often as he would like, Webb has made plans to remedy that. He’s now a member of the Commemorative Air Force’s Redbird Squadron at Dallas Executive Airport.

“Flying their P-51 Mustang is on my bucket list,” he said.