Windham partners with Mullin ISD, TDCJ. Begins new High School Diploma program in prison

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Texas’s first in-prison High School Diploma (HSD) program in more than 30 years is underway, with a new class of 42 female HSD graduates recognized in December, 2014.  This unique program began with approximately 30 other young women earlier in the year, thanks to a unique partnership among Windham School District (WSD), Mullin Independent School District (ISD) and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

Dr. Clint Carpenter with Political Officials 
TDCJ offenders who were incarcerated at the time they had nearly earned a diploma were given an opportunity to attend classes at the San Saba Unit, with WSD providing desks, computer equipment and high school software.  Mullin ISD provided the teaching staff for these students behind bars, who met the eligibility criteria for enrollment in Mullin ISD courses, according to Texas Education Agency guidelines.  WSD provided administrative oversight, and TDCJ provided classroom space and security services.  The program opened on February 18, and the first graduation of 27 took place in June amid cheers from graduates, parents, and teachers. Contagious pride in accomplishment and intense emotions were on display as each student received their diploma from Mullin ISD and a certificate of completion from WSD. The program’s second class of 42 diploma recipients was also recently honored at San Saba, along with eight GED recipients.

Carpenter-Speaking-to-San-Saba---DSC 2772Students in this program gain course credit in subject areas needed for the Texas HSD.  Diplomas are awarded when all coursework and required state assessments are passed.

"We are exceptionally proud of these graduates for working hard to earn their diplomas despite tough circumstances.  They have turned their negative situations into personal, family success stories," WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said.  "Mullin teachers have provided excellent instruction to these young women, and their families have given the women the backing needed to make positive changes in their lives. This becomes a better story for generations to come.  We thank TDCJ and Mullin ISD for the exceptional support they gave to make this program a reality."

 

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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.”

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 working with TDLR, strengthening employment opportunities by helping offenders earn state licensures - The Windham School District is working to strengthen career paths which provide offenders with opportunity for licensure.

Teachers: WSD WANTS YOU To join its new Summer School program! - Windham School District is expanding educational opportunities for TDCJ offenders during Summer Break 2016, and teaching positions are currently available. New summer school classes will focus on additional certifications, jobs, parenting, and life skills -- all designed to assist WSD students in obtaining and maintaining employment.