Austin American-Statesman - Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, February 10, 2008

 

Austin American-Statesman Editor Rich Oppel recently served as a GED® graduation speaker at the Travis State Jail. He did a fantastic job as speaker, and he followed up with a very positive column about WSD and its GED® program.


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Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts
Rich Oppel

On a recent morning, at the end of a long road that drops into an old pasture and emerges at a rectangle of high fences in far eastern Travis County, pride had to make way for pain in a locked and guarded room.

Two hours after I entered this emotional scene, I drove out, passing a kennel of baying bloodhounds, and questions lingered:

Why the pain? Is it properly distributed?

This was graduation day in the Windham School District. Never heard of Windham? That's because its schools are scattered within the walls and fences of units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

This particular branch was at the Travis State Jail, located at 8101 FM 969, which houses 1,100 inmates. The school is one of the 88 schools in the TDCJ.

Seated in folding chairs on one side of a large room were 36 men. Some wore blue gowns, others white prison uniforms. Most were between 18 and 35, though a couple of 43-year-old were mixed in.

Their faces were expressionless, eyes deflected in the protective human mask that is useful if you are a felon trying to survive behind bars.

On the other side of the room were 30 to 35 people -men, women and children. They were the fathers and mothers, wives and girlfriends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

When asked if they had anything to say to the prisoners, emotions welled up among these families.

"To my graduate, Julien, my husband, I love you."

"Rowdy, my son, I love you. You make me very proud."

"People make mistakes. Just don't make the same mistake twice, William. We'll set up the business when you complete... your dues."

"We love you. We miss you. Keep up the good work."

"Delton, I hope this is a right step in a positive direction."

"Donald, God has a plan for you. Everyone makes a mistake. Let God lead you."

Among the inmate across from them, eyes reddened, head swiveled, a nervous wave was proffered, sullen faces turned to smiles and finally, eyes met eyes.

There was good reason for pride. Thirteen of the prisoners had earned their General Educational Development (GED®) certificates.

Another 11 had completed courses in business computer information systems, and three had earned certificates in landscape design and construction maintenance.

I felt pain, too, in seeing what these young men had done to their families, and wondered why it was necessary, because you could see these guys working at the local hardware store, hotel, hospital or business office.

Perhaps that is where we will see them next, because their commintment to earning a certificate and learning work skills gives them a good chance of staying out of prison.

The average Windham student never attained a high school diploma, functions at a 6th grade level, has an IQ of 85, and is 34 years old.

Among the 1,100 here at the Travis State Jail, you sense that these 36 are made of the right stuff.

"Congratulations, for putting up with all of the negativity of the dorms," said Ashley Anderson, the building captain, noting that they had borne ridicule by other inmates to seek an education and have a vision for the future while others sat on the edge of their bunks.

As I've written before, I have a GED®, too. That's why I was here. I never served time, but I know that these guys aren't that much different than I was at age of 18. They may have pulled a stick-up or beat up somebody. They got what they deserved, though their families didn't deserve this.

But everybody needs a hand up, and now these guys in blue and white were getting that help.

Help from the warden, Corey Ginsel, and the school principal, Sandy Haak, and teachers like those who showed up for the graduation on their day off -Joe Castillo, Richard Coppedge, Suzanna Grant and Terrence Smith.

And most of all, they were getting help from the families on the other side of the room, the people who shared the pain and still love them.

 

Other articles that may interest you:

Annual Performance Report SY17 (2016-2017)

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about educational programming provided by Windham School District (WSD) within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

WSD aligns job opportunities and learning with instruction and class offerings for offenders. The result: a productive, positive journey for offenders seeking workforce reentry. WSD accomplishes this through enhanced program offerings and classes requiring significantly elevated skill levels. We have improved programs by adding new components to existing courses, and we have worked with experts to bring the best possible educational opportunities to our students. In addition, WSD has expanded partnerships with industry and community workforce boards. These alliances support the alignment of courses with employer demands throughout the various regions of Texas.

Windham recently revised its life skills offerings. Experts in cognitive and criminogenic change processes worked with Windham staff and community stakeholders to improve two essential life skills classes: the Cognitive Intervention Program (CIP) and Changing Habits and Achieving New Goals to Empower Success (CHANGES). With these advances, Windham uses assessments to better measure outcomes for students while identifying areas students and instructors can work to improve.

Academic gains for students in the literacy classes at Windham are among the highest in the nation. Students can expect academic advances of between two to three years for every year of instruction within Windham classes. Furthermore, the classes are aligned with job skills needed in vocational occupations to better prepare students for work; classes bring real-world relevancy to daily lessons. In addition, Windham has redesigned services for special needs students to better serve those with learning disabilities and other barriers to effective learning. They, too, are making the journey to find employment and successfully reenter society.

Vocational trades at Windham have expanded to include skills needed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) middle-level jobs. These include computerized numerical control machining, fiber and copper cabling, computer controls programming, and telecommunications. Windham has also partnered with TDCJ to provide training and United States Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program participation for workers in various jobs within TDCJ facilities. By aligning the educational skills with job requirement skills, offender workers are able to apply the knowledge obtained through Windham with real-world job experience at TDCJ units.

Windham has implemented many changes over the past three years. By carefully evaluating program outcomes in student gains and employment upon release, WSD helps reduce the cost of incarceration. The cost to taxpayers for crimes committed in communities is also reduced. This journey of continuous improvement, driven by data analysis, has strengthened academic growth during incarceration and lowered recidivism rates for those students who participate in Windham programming.

Windham is always looking for new ways to better serve the State of Texas, and I hope this Annual Performance Report provides you with evidence of the quality education the teachers and staff at WSD provide to thousands of men and women each year. Our students’ journey to success has begun.

 

Dr. Clint Carpenter,
Superintendent, Windham School District

 

Current APR 2016 - 2017: 

 

Archived Reports: 

 

 

WSD donates more than $20,000 statewide in 2015 State Employee Charitable Campaign - Windham School District employees opened their hearts and checkbooks in September and October of 2015, donating $20,000.82 to the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC). Using payroll deduction, cash or check donations and profits from a statewide sale of "We Are Windham" polo and t-shirts, WSD employees generously made gifts to local, state and national charities of their choice.

Sen. Charles Perry speaks to graduates in Childress - Graduation speaker Sen. Charles Perry recently inspired WSD students and their visiting families at a Roach Unit commencement ceremony in Childress. He addressed graduates who had completed their High School Equivalency certificates (HSEC) and presented each one with a leather bound copy of the book "Jesus Calling".

Windham School District offers females expanded course offerings, career options - Expansion of job training programs for female offenders is unfolding in Gatesville, according to Windham School District (WSD) administrators. "WSD is proud to offer new programming for female offenders incarcerated at units in Gatesville," said Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department administrator Rick Jones. All programming is part of Windham's continued efforts to provide cutting edge career and technical education.

Steve Hidden, Gerente de Desarrollo de la Fuerza Laboral de Soldadura de Miller Electric Mfg. Company (izquierda) se reúne con el Superintendente de WSD, el Dr. Clint Carpenter, durante la conferencia de la Asociación de Educación Correccional 2018 en Nueva Orleans, LA. Miller, apoya los esfuerzos de Windham con su creciente tecnología en el campo de la soldadura, lo que ayudará a nuestros estudiantes con habilidades de soldadura y aumentará una vez que sean liberados.

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - I now have a good job - "My Windham teachers showed patience, effort, and kindness; they were very helpful"

Success Story IconWelding Success Story -
"I'm thankful for the welding program I was allowed to take while locked up".

Success Story IconNEW - Education taught me... - "Education taught me how to think and analyze problems, which helps me daily in my current employment."

Success Story IconNEW - Making a positive impact - "I am very excited to be learning a new trade and to be securing employment for myself in the 'real world.'"

Calendar

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Teach for WSD

WSD in Images

Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
WSD’s Business and Image Management & Multimedia (BIMM) class offers students the opportunity to learn viable graphic arts and computer skills, helping them prepare for jobs after release.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Students at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit strengthen writing skills during a literacy class.
Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill congratulates GED recipients during Spring, 2014, ceremonies. “I am very impressed with the program and with the commitment of the staff and teachers,” she said.

Former Student Survey