HUNTSVILLE ITEM: TDCJ’s Windham School District: Safe, successful stories being told here now

By Winston Spencer Jr.

Posted: 08/02/2014 9:44 PM

 

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Time heals all wounds, or so it’s been said. Some say time covers wounds with scar tissue. The pain lessens, but it’s never truly gone.

Forty years have passed since the world shared the city of Huntsville’s wounds caused by the senseless losses of Julia “Judy” Standley and Elizabeth “Von” Beseda, employees at the Texas Department of Corrections.

What have we learned as a result of those tragic events? What’s it like to teach inside prison walls in Texas today?

“Today we provide security training to all Texas Department of Criminal Justice new hires,” said Veronica Casanova, director of instruction for the Windham School District, TDCJ’s school system for its offender population.

“We get a minimum 12 hours per year of security training. Most of our staff gets far more than that, but everyone gets at a minimum those 12 hours. The training we receive as part of the Windham staff is tailored to  fit our specific needs.”

Those particular training needs are designed to help teachers maintain a high level of awareness of the culture of their surroundings, so they can identify levels of threats and most of all, remember where they work.

During the 11-day siege that began on July 24, 1974, inmates seized the education and library areas inside the Huntsville “Walls” Unit. Three armed convicts captured 11 employees along with five inmates. The convicts then negotiated their own release while threatening to execute the hostages.

When the inmates planned to use the hostages as human shields, Standley and Beseda volunteered to take the most dangerous positions — in front. They died when they were shot by their captors.

On Aug. 26, 1999, 25 years after the violent ending of the siege, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice formally named the Standley-Beseda Education Facility after the fallen educators.

Today, Windham officials say Standley and Beseda live on in every educator who endeavors to make the effort to change the lives of offenders. The facility in the “Walls” serves as a constant reminder of their legacy and sacrifice.

Casanova, who spent 20 years teaching in the public school system, feels “more secure” within the correctional classroom than she did in the public sector.

“I think I can speak for many of our instructors when I say we feel more secure in our setting than we did in our former classrooms,” Casanova said last week. “Part of it I know is because of the training we receive. (However) we are taught to engage the inmate with instruction and that keeps everyone focused on the goal.

“From the time our teachers come here they learn about the history here, and other teachers and staff lend a hand with their experience to give better perspective.”

Before coming to Windham District, Casanova had her concerns.

“I asked questions, I sat in on a correctional class and talked with teachers, all to make sure this was the right place for me,” she said. “I was transitioning from elementary school to men. What I found was that here, we have to be a team. We have a very positive team; it’s a great team effort here.”

Casanova says Windham teachers enjoy being a part of the many successful stories inside the district that was knocked to its knees on this date 40 years ago.

“We are able to see success much more than many of us did in the public sector,” Casanova said. “Many of these inmates are experiencing academic success for the first time ever in their lives,. Dreams are established.”

Casanova has a few suggestions for the public school system, as well.

“First, regardless of the subject or its content, we (teachers and administrators) must engage students to think — critically. Secondly, we have to develop partnerships between schools, family, students and industry.

“Huntsville is not so big that this can’t become a realistic goal.”

 

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Annual Performance Report SY16 (2015-2016)

Thank you for taking the time to review Windham School District (WSD) programs and learn more about great things happening in correctional education in Texas.

Windham has undergone tremendous change in the past two years. The challenges of teaching in the correctional setting have required our school district to be continually improving course delivery and course offerings to keep students at the top of the achievement curve. Read through WSD’s Annual Performance Report for School Year 2015-2016 (SY16) and you will see a significant range of improvements resulting in greater success for students.

Two years ago Windham developed a plan to dramatically increase the number and type of vocational offerings in our schools while also advancing instructor training. Windham utilized the latest advances in predictive statistical analysis to guide these changes in coursework and to decide which new courses to add.

These new courses have been designed, developed, and implemented to reach even more students while elevating the skill level of the overall training program. This has been accomplished by first offering basic or core courses to students for mastery of basic skills. These basic skills are then applied to a variety of “next step” training within more specialized areas, guiding students to reach for higher achievement and better opportunities for employment. “Next step” training is high level and in high demand. Employers are seeking skilled tradesmen, so Windham is offering many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math courses to meet the need. For example, Windham is offering courses in copper and fiber optic cabling, Computer Numerically Controlled machinery operations, Electronic Service Technician work, and other areas of employment.

Windham has also increased its success in awarding industry-recognized vocational certifications by more than three times the number accomplished three years ago: Windham delivered training leading to more than 18,000 industry certifications in SY16. Widespread vocational teacher training was also conducted this school year to further strengthen the vocational program while increasing student achievement. By changing the delivery of vocational instruction and improving teacher skill levels, students are receiving more advanced instruction and are better able to build a skill set within their areas of interest.

Life skills courses taught by Windham show a significant reduction in recidivism, particularly within the Cognitive Intervention Program (CIP) classes. The effectiveness of this program, along with that of the pre-release CHANGES program, has also been heightened through changes in content and delivery. With the support of expert researchers in the field of criminal thinking processes, Windham has completely rewritten CIP and CHANGES curriculum. Enhancements and measurable outcome assessments have also been added to these valuable programs. In addition, WSD has trained all teachers of life skills classes using the newest teaching techniques, and we are confident this training will further improve student performance.

Academic programs have also continued to improve through additional teacher training and expansion of services, including improvements for younger students and those with special needs. Through a large investment in technology, Windham has been able to provide computer-assisted learning components to improve student performance through blended approaches to instruction. The performance of students on assessments such as the Test of Adult Basic Education and the High School Equivalency Certificate (HSEC) test has shown improvement in course delivery, translating into student success in many areas. Windham also expanded offerings to reach more students by offering specialized teaching curriculum during WSD summer break. These Elective Personal Enrichment Classes are relevant and of high interest to students, with student response being overwhelmingly positive.

Windham continues to cultivate a higher quality of teaching, improved course offerings, and relevant training opportunities for our student population. As a result, we look forward to continued growth and achievement. It is also our
privilege to partner with other public and private agencies, entities, and individuals who are dedicated to helping incarcerated men and women change their lives and find careers. Great challenges require great cooperation, so we welcome these connections.

WSD is honored by the accomplishments of students who learn skills or obtain training from our classes, using it to reenter society, become contributing citizens, and rebuild families. Your interest and support are critical to meeting these challenges. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Together we’ll strengthen roadways leading to changed lives, a stronger workforce, and a better tomorrow. The possibilities for success are limitless.

Dr. Clint Carpenter,
Superintendent, Windham School District

 

Current APR 2015 - 2016: 

 

Archived Reports: 

 

 

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