Briscoe and Cotulla’s graduation: A step in the right direction

Windham School District (WSD) strives to provide appropriate educational programming and services to meet the needs of the inmate population and reduce recidivism by assisting offenders in becoming responsible members of their communities.

WSD, in partnership with Southwest Texas Junior College (SWTJC), is helping reduce recidivism through education. The fruits of this labor were seen at the Briscoe and Cotulla units’ GED/vocational and college graduation ceremony recently held at the Briscoe Unit.

The program began when the graduates entered in procession to the harmonies of the Briscoe Unit choir and band. As they marched toward their seats, visitors could see pride and honor on the faces of the graduates and hear excitement from family members and friends.

"I know that pursuing your education in this environment was tough and took a lot of commitment," said M. Daughtry, WSD principal at the Briscoe Unit. The same sentiment was echoed by other staff in attendance including teachers, counselors, correctional officers and wardens.

The ceremony acknowledged accomplishments of graduates from various educational programs offered in TDCJ/ WSD. Vocational certificates were awarded for trades in construction carpentry, landscape design, and electrical work, along with GED certificates. SWTJC, in partnership with WSD, awarded graduates certificates in college level construction carpentry, as well as associate degrees. In addition to awarding the graduates certifi cates and degrees for successfully completing their respective programs, the youngest graduate, the oldest graduate, the salutatorian and valedictorian were also acknowledged for their accomplishments.

Porter-img"I’m sure that there are some of my peers who didn’t plan on graduating this way and may think of this graduation as being less than the real thing. But the same amount of hard work that you put into these classes is no different than what they are doing in schools outside of these gates," said E. Porter, the college graduate who gave the commencement address.

"You should be proud of your accomplishments and understand that this was not given to you by chance. You all took the necessary steps required to go to the next level of your lives. You stayed focused in the midst of what can sometimes be a hectic and confusing environment and did what needed to be done," he said.

The college presentations then highlighted the accomplishments of vocational students who strengthened construction carpentry skills by building a double-wide sized model home on the grounds of the unit. The house will be relocated upon completion.

"The structure had to be built small enough to fit through the gates upon completion, but large enough for practical use because it will be converted into a church. We once offered a one-year certificate but now we offer a two-year associate degree that covers more aspects of the trade," said J. Lopez, who teaches the college carpentry program.

Final remarks reiterated the impact of the partnership between WSD and SWTJC.

"This is a great partnership . It’s a golden opportunity for the guys here to pursue their educations and prepare to return to society with something that can help themselves and their families," Daughtry said.

Other Success Stories that may interest you:

Teacher Recognition 2015 - WSD teachers are changing lives daily within the confines of Texas prisons, using education and job training to help transform offenders into productive members of society. The accomplishments of our teachers are life-altering and long-lasting. They make a difference.

Austin businesswoman lists education, faith, sobriety as powerful life savers - Education, faith, sobriety and determination rewrote the dramatic story of Austin's Tina Harryman, a successful businesswoman who overcame substance abuse and incarceration.

Perry praises WSD graduates for educational accomplishments : ‘You’ve done something you didn’t have to do’ - Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) recently recognized hard work and educational accomplishment in a West Texas prison.

Annual Performance Report SY15 (014-2015)

This is an exciting time to be part of Windham School District (WSD)!

We invite you to be a part of what is happening to change lives for those wanting a second chance after a past of criminal activity. Every day, more people join our efforts to change the lives of those incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “New teachers apply for jobs, volunteers sign up to devote time and some offer free short courses, businesses inquire about hiring students on release, and many charitable service and faith-based organizations ask to partner with WSD.” Many Texans are now interested in how they can become a part of our collective effort, making Windham’s goals part of their personal mission. We are hearing these people proudly state, “We are Windham,” expressing solidarity with our common mission to facilitate positive change.

Windham’s past performance is ranked as one of the highest in the nation among correctional educational programs, but we know we must continue to improve and challenge ourselves to deliver the best opportunities for offenders to be successful upon release back into Texas communities. Windham takes pride in past performance, but I hope you can also see our efforts to be responsive to needed changes. Our staff of highly qualified and dedicated people is rising to the challenges of educating the offender population in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. By improving educational content delivery, expanding vocational training opportunity for offenders, improving behavior and choice training for offenders, connecting with businesses who employ released offenders and continually working to improve efficiencies, Windham is providing a cost-effective intervention that helps protect all fellow Texans and lowers the cost of criminal activity to the State.

 

Current APR 2014 - 2015: 

 

Archived Reports: 

 

 

BY NICOLE WILCOX  
Staff writer
Published September 2, 2015
Reprinted courtesy of The Navasota Examiner
Navasota, Texas

 

Reporter Nicole Wilcox of the Navasota Examiner recently visited the Luther Unit for a first-hand look at Windham School District and how correctional education is helping offenders prepare for a successful life after release.  Her positive report is shared below, courtesy of The Navasota Examiner.

 

Welding instructor Van Campbell tells reporter Nicole Wilcox why he became a WSD teacher.

Most residents can recall four school districts within the county - Navasota, Anderson-Shiro, Iola and Richards – but there are actually five fully operational districts in our community.


Often forgotten about, the teachers of the Windham School District don’t have bus duty, lunch duty or parent conferences. What they do have is a school surrounded by security fencing and guard towers.

The Windham School District operates within 89 different Texas Department of Criminal Justice units, including both the Luther and Pack units in Navasota. The school district’s goals, as stated by Texas Education Code 19.003, are to reduce the odds of relapse and the cost of confinement or imprisonment, increase the success of former inmates in obtaining and maintaining employment, and provide an incentive for inmates to behave in positive ways during confinement or imprisonment. Students in the CNC Machining program at the Luther Unit learn valuable employment skills.

An individualized treatment plan is created for each offender, taking into account age, program availability, projected release date and varying needs of the offender. To accommodate those needs, the school district has different sections, including literacy and GED programs, career and technical education programs, and life skills programs.

“We are trying to put you in contact with jobs that will change your life,” Windham School District Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said last week to a group of offenders in the vocational program of the Luther Unit.

The latest reports from the 2013-14 school year show 59,678 offenders statewide received WSD educational services. Of these offenders, 66 percent were able to attain a GED or high school diploma or showed significant gains in educational achievements. In addition to normal education classes, Windham offers offenders cognitive intervention and CHANGES programs designed to change the way they handle situations to prevent criminal behavior. CHANGES  is an acronym for changing habits and achieving new goals to empower success.

“I really believe in this program,” said CHANGES teacher Victoria Koehn. “Most of them really want to change but don’t know how. When the environment is right, they really open up.”

Those entered into CHANGES are within two years of getting out of the system. It is a 14-week program that includes role- playing scenarios and a seven-step system of behavior awareness that includes saying no to drugs, civic responsibility, healthy relationship development, apologies and amends, job interview skills and being open to change.

“The healthy relationship development is a big deal,” said Koehn. “Research shows that one good relationship is enough of a motivator to stay free.”WSD integrates vocational and literacy skills to help prepare offenders for successful lives after release.

If an offender has obtained a GED or high school diploma, they are eligible for vocational or college courses. Within the Luther Unit, a few of these courses include electrical, welding and computerized numerical computation. The computerized numerical control course deals with machining fabrication. The majority of fabrication and machining shops in the industry are moving to computerization because the machines are capable of being accurate to within 1/10000 of an inch.

“The majority of these guys are at 250 hours right now and can do the majority of the machine’s programming,” said instructor Mike Klodginksi.

The participating offenders in the computerized numerical computation course will be eligible for entry- level industry certification when they complete the minimum 600 hours of coursework and can opt for an additional 300 hours of advancement.

Electrical instructor Frank Goodman has simulated a work environment within his classroom with each student having an independent stall and project board. He is a firm believer in peer tutoring and teaches students that intrinsic motivation is self-motivation.

“I see my son in each of my students,” said Goodman. “I just want you to get paid for your knowledge.”

Like the majority of the WSD vocational classes, Goodman’s electrical course is six to nine months long, and the students are eligible for first or second year apprenticeship depending on the time put into the training.

“This was a blessing for me. I had an apprentice license before I was incarcerated.  I had the opportunity to go to school, but I wouldn’t do it. This made me come to school and work on becoming a journeyman. I have an opportunity to go back to work with LECS and work for them. I am retaining the info I knew when I was working,” said offender Antonio Rivera Camacho.CHANGES teacher Victoria Koehn (center) describes WSD’s pre-release life skills program to Navasota Examiner reporter Nicole Wilcox (left) and WSD Principal LeeEtta Clabron.

Everyone within WSD has a story. An overwhelming majority of the inmates talk about their families as motivation for participating. For the instructors and administrators, it is often a calling that differs from the course of their previous life.

Welding instructor Van Campbell was a 20-year member of the ironworkers union in Cincinnati before the birth of his first grandchild made him and his wife move to Texas. When asked if he would encourage anyone else to follow in his footsteps, Campbell replied, “As a teacher, yes! It is very gratifying. I’d hire any one of these guys when they leave my class.”