TDCJ Windham School District: An Ongoing Success Story - Reprinted from the Paducah Post
TDCJ Windham School District: An Ongoing Success Story
When you talk about schools in our area you usually talk about Paducah ISD, Guthrie CSD, and then of course there is Matador, Crowell, Childress ISD, just numerous schools we are all acquainted with and that each year, through sports, we come in contact with. Well, there is another school in our area, one that gets little attention, but one that is very important, one that serves a very distinct class of students.
It's the Windham School District. Never heard of it? Well, that's quite possible. But believe it or not it is a very large and very real school district right here in Texas and, you could really say, in our community.
Windham School district (WSD) provides appropriate educational programs to meet the needs of the eligible offender population (that means the students are incarcerated, or prisoners, in the TDCJ system) thus reducing recidivism by assisting offenders in becoming productive members of society. Studies show that education and employment reduce recidivism and save tax dollars (remember that sentence!) Many of the offenders in the Texas Departments of Criminal Justice can acquire the educational background and basic skills necessary for attaining employment upon release. The typical Windham student functions at the sixth grade level.
WSD academic and career and technical programs are designed to provide offenders with the skills they need to obtain employment upon release. Windham provides a variety of academic classes and Career and Technical Education to offenders incarcerated in the TDCJ, along with behavioral change programs.
WSD operates schools on 89 sites serving TDCJ. That's a lot of schools!
All this information is available on the WSD/Windham School District website, along with much more information.
But to find out more about Windham School District, we talked to the WSD Principal and Principal-In-Residence for the Panhandle Area of WSD, Mrs. Erika Moore. You may be familiar with Mrs. Moore, she is a long time resident of Paducah and married to Tim Moore, owner/manager of Moore's Thriftway. They have two children, one a graduate of PHS and one currently enrolled in high school. Along with being residents of Paducah for over 20 years, Mrs. Moore has been employed with WSD for seven years. Moore has a Bachelor's Degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Elementary Education with a specialization in Reading. She has a Master's Degree from Texas A&M Commerce in Counseling and a Principal's Certification from Stephen F. Austin. She began teaching in 1991 and worked as a K-12 counselor and District Testing Coordinator for Paducah ISD.
We asked Mrs. Moore of just how many WSD schools in the area she is the director.
'I am a Principal at the T.L. Roach Unit in Childress, Texas. I am also the Principal-In-Residence for the 10 Panhandle Area Units. A Principal-In-Residence is similar to a Regional Administrator.'
Obviously the WSD operates a little differently than normal schools. We asked her apart from the obvious, just how the school differs.
'We are the education system for the Texas Department of criminal Justice. Our students have the opportunity to earn a High School Equivalency Certificate (HSEC) if they do not have a High School Diploma or HSEC. They also can take up to three vocational courses in a variety of fields including, but not limited to, Automotive, Culinary, HVAC, Truck Driving, and Welding. We offer 42 vocational courses. Our students are offered a Cognitive Intervention course to guide them in making future decisions, as well as Pre-Release course they can take once they are within 2 years of release.
Yet another big difference is the ages of students. In prison, education is blind to the ages of students. It simply looks at needs. 'We have students of all ages enrolled in school' says Moore. 'Behavior status is a factor in enrollment. We offer a class for students under the age of 22 known as Lead and Achieve Academy. It focuses on reading but works on math and language skills as well. We offer an ESL class as well to support students who struggle with speaking and understanding English. Our Literacy classes are for students who do not have a High School Diploma or High School Equivalency Certificate. Literacy is required for these students and we work to help them earn their HSEC as quickly as possible.
I once attended a graduation at the Tulia unit and one particular graduate was in his late 50's, so it is possible to earn a degree at a later age. This individual was incredibly proud and so eager to move forward and continue his education. He is planning on continuing with a vocational course to extend his education.'
But along with getting a High School diploma, students also have access to continuing education, Moore explains.
'We offer a Literacy program for HSEC and vocational courses for specialized training in specific fields. Students can earn an Associate's Degree, Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree if they elect to attend college. There are college programs on several units. The Roach Unit is blessed to partner with Clarendon College to offer a large selection of college classes. We are the only unit that offers dual credit. Clarendon College has generously given us 50 free slots for dual credit students who qualify for college classes.'
Moore went on to say that several colleges are affiliated with the program. WSD and the Roach Unit campus partner with Clarendon College to offer courses to offenders who qualify for college courses. They offer dual credit for students who are working on their HSEC as well as a variety of college classes to help participants work toward an Associate's Degree.
But having the courses and classes available is one thing, having the teachers available to teach the classes is another. Moore says that the teachers that teach in the WSD are just like teachers in other schools.
'Our teachers are Texas certified in the same manner as any other Texas teacher. We do receive consistent specialized training for safety and security purposes as well as appropriate adult Staff Development training to benefit our students in preparation for their HSEC.'
But remember, this isn't just any school. In all schools, students are expected to be on their best behavior in order to maintain class discipline and support the task of education. In the WSD, it's even more important that each and every student be on their best behavior.
'Our students are expected to behave appropriately while attending school,' says Moore. 'Our teachers use Social Contracts as one method of encouragement to promote proper behavior while in class. The students on our campus rarely misbehave. My staff works hard to keep our students actively involved in their education so discipline isn't an issue.'
It is interesting to note that an offender can enroll in school if their custody status is allowable in a school program.
'We do not discriminate due to offense,' says Moore. 'We do exercise causation in enrollment based on the offender's behavior on the unit. We want to maintain a safe working environment for our employees while offering a high quality education to our students.'
Still, one must remember that these are not just regular students. They are offenders and they are in prison for crimes committed against their fellow citizens. Some crimes are small, petty, some... not so small. Some are downright scary. But one of the points to this story, and one of the things that Mrs. Moore was very adamant about was that, once an offender serves his time and is released, if he has the tools to re-enter society, gain access to employment, there is a very good chance he will not return to the prison system again. That's good. That's good for you, me, for everyone. Remember, your tax dollars pay for what you would call, 'extended stays' in the no frills hotel.
And that's just what Mrs. Moore and the employees of WSD are trying to do, lower the percentage of recidivism among offenders. The best way to do this, studies show, is with education. The better educated, the better chance an offender will become part of a functioning, productive society.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a graduating class at the T.L. Roach Unit. I had no idea what to expect, but was very pleasantly surprised. Without knowing any of the backgrounds of any of the graduates (there were a little over 40 I believe) I was surprised at how seriously they took getting their diplomas, and how many of them were already talking about taking their education to the next level. Most of these men were very young and I had a very good feeling that a brighter future lay ahead for many of them. We all make mistakes; we get involved in the wrong crowd, we are in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the WRONG things, and some, ah, well, we never listen to our parents! But everyone (almost everyone) deserves a second chance. It's my belief that education helps with that second chance, and the Windham School District is one of the best places to start.