Before the Christmas break, Fortis Academy Principal Anthony Moten thought it would be a good idea to have a therapy pet at the school to help with students’ social-emotional needs. Fortis is Harris County’s first public high school for students recovering with alcohol and drug abuse addiction. Fortis English Teacher Rachel Finley was out with her husband at a lumber yard one day and came across a small, black, mixed-breed dog. She asked a worker if it was his, and he said no that she just showed up. “He told me I could take her home, so we did,” Finley said. “She was really good with my kids at home, and thought she would be the same with our Fortis students.” She messaged Moten about the one-and-a-half-year-old chihuahua-yorkie mix and decided to see how she would interact with the students. When school started back in January, Finley took the newly named Allie to school and was pleased about how she did with everyone. “She did great, and it was like she was born to be here at Fortis,” Finley said. “We definitely found our Fortis pet.” In the morning she gets excited when the students start arriving and jumps on them as they enter the school. Allie goes from class to class greeting the students and teachers throughout the day while wearing one of her many Fortis Academy shirts. “She’s really cute and good with all of us,” said senior Karen Espinoza. “Allie’s a loveable dog,” sophomore Yadhira Martinez said. The main goal for Allie while on campus is to help students with emotional therapy. Staff and students have noticed the school environment has been happy since Allie has been on campus. Finley doesn’t take Allie to school when it’s raining, and they see the effects of her not being there. “That first day I didn’t bring her we were all just having a bad day, and students kept telling me that I should have brought Allie,” she said. “I was one of those students that asked for Allie that day,” said sophomore Julian Guerrero. “She definitely changes our mood.” Source: HCDE

Left: Matthew Kirkpatrick and Anthony Abarca

It all started with a 6-year-old boy’s daily commute with his parents and a homeless man playing guitar on a busy northeast Houston street corner. The man serenaded the boy’s mother as the car idled at the red light. The little boy teased his mom that the “guitar man” liked her. Eleven years later, Aldine Independent School District student artist Anthony Abarca returned to that corner to photograph and meet the man named Northside Ray and tell the old man’s story through imagery. The teen’s photograph entitled “Love Affair” depicts a weathered homeless man with dried, caked blood on his face. The man’s piercing blue eyes make the case for hope, not despair. The photo earned the Carver High School senior an American Visions nomination, one of five best-of-show art awards judged in a pool of more than 5,000 entries with Harris County Department of Education as regional affiliate of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Teacher Matthew Kirkpatrick says the often cliché influence of photography on teens via social media and advertising is strong, but he tries to show students the meaningful side of photography. The storytelling concept stuck with high school senior Abarca. “It sparked my idea of how every day we see less fortunate people and how we never really get the chance to know their story,” said Abarca, reflecting on his teacher’s influence. “Mr. Kirkpatrick taught me that I can’t be afraid to try new things and that my work must have meaning through a story that I want to tell. I will never forget that and will continue to show it through my work.” Setting out to find Ray wasn’t that hard. Abarca found the homeless man on the same street corner he left him in his memories a decade before. His decision to photograph Ray helped him understand the plight of the homeless. A twist of fate had put Ray on the street, and he never found his way back. As Ray grew older, homelessness became more difficult and dangerous. In fact, the day Abarca took the man’s photo, the old man had just been beaten. Two months after taking the photo, Abarca returned to Near Northside to share the photo and an award he had won in a juried art show. Northside Ray died after being stabbed on the streets. Abarca never got the chance to share Ray’s infamy. The photograph “Love Affair” will now be judged at the national level through Scholastic Art & Writing in New York City, and that feels good to both student and teacher. Awardees will be notified on March 16, and an awards ceremony will be held in New York City Carnegie Hall in June. “I am both nervous and excited for Anthony and what this means moving forward,” said Kirkpatrick. “I appreciate this contest (Scholastic) in comparison to the others that my students participate in for it’s high regard to concept. I often tell my students that this contest will judge their work as that of an adult artist.” For information about HCDE’s Scholastic Art & Writing 2020 exhibits and receptions or to enter, judge or sponsor the Awards, go to or email Andrea Segraves, View the Awards press release: . Source: HCDE
Harris County Department of Education is hosting a job interview fair to recruit teachers, teaching assistants, family service providers, cooks and a mental health professional to join any of its 15 locations throughout northeast Harris County. The recruitment event will be held Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 6300 Irvington Blvd. “We are looking for highly energetic, passionate individuals who enjoy working with young children to join our team,” said HCDE Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock. “Our employees help transform lives of children and their families, along with making a difference each day.” Qualifications for Head Start teaching assistant, Early Head Start teacher and Head Start teacher include experience working with young children and an interest in early childhood education. Those who hold child development associate (CDA) degrees are strongly encouraged to apply. The mental health professional must have a master’s degree in social work, counseling, psychology or education with at least five years’ experience working wither underserved populations.  Interested candidates can apply online at or call 713-696-8287 for information. HCDE Head Start provides services to facilities in Barrett Station, Baytown, Channelview, Compton, Coolwood, Dogan, Fifth Ward, Fonwood, Humble, J.D. Walker, La Porte, Pugh, San Jacinto, Sheffield and Tidwell. Head Start ensures future success for students both academically and socially and provides comprehensive health, education, nutrition and financial services to families. Find more information on positions available and qualifications, visit: Visit for general information about HCDE Head Start and locations. Source: HCDE
Harris County teen artists and writers in grades 7-12 are celebrated through artist exhibits in the city as awardees through Harris County Department of Education’s Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.    The Awards recognize student achievement in the visual and literary arts in 29 categories, including editorial cartoon, poetry, graphic design, fashion, science fiction, photography and more. Exhibits will be held from Feb. 18-March 16 to honor the artists and writers from public, private and home schools.
  • Top Gold Key Awardees will be showcased at the Galleria, 5085 Westheimer, Houston, Texas, 77007 on the first-floor level near Saks Fifth Avenue during mall hours.
  • Works from Silver Key artists and writers are being displayed at Texas Art Supply, 2001 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Texas 77066 during store hours.
HCDE is one of more than 100 regional affiliate partners with Scholastic Art & Writing for the past 16 years. Since 1923, Scholastic Art & Writing has showcased the artist vision, ingenuity and talent of youth. Past honorees include notable alumni like Andy Warhol and Joyce Carol Oates. Students this year submitted approximately 350,000 original works for judging. Regional affiliate HCDE judged 8,997 pieces this year. Teens awarded Gold Keys will advance for national judging in New York City. National Medalists will be announced on March 16. For questions regarding the Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards program events, contact Andrea Segraves at View press release with more details about teen artists and writers and other celebrations planned for the year: Source: HCDE
Emboldened early childhood educators attending the Early Childhood Winter Conference spent Saturday, Feb. 1 being energized by local leaders who said their lives were molded by the influence of their teachers. View photos: Introduced by famed children’s author Peter Reynolds, upheld by Harris County School Superintendent James Colbert Jr. and affirmed by conference namesake Raymond T. Garcia, the positive influence of the early childhood teachers was unshakeable. “I can think of the things preschool teachers instill in you, and those basic, sound principles grow with you,” said Garcia, former HCDE Board president and trustee and retired businessman. “That’s why I come each year to tell these teachers how important they are. It comes naturally to thank them.” The 34th annual R.T. Garcia Early Childhood Winter Conference hosted by Harris County Department of Education is a tradition for generations of early childhood educators. Both longtime and first-time attendees talked about the tools they garnered from the daylong event. Kamaria Price teaches pre-k at Martin Luther King Early Childhood Center. She is a third-year attendee who says the conference inspires, refocuses and rejuvenates.

HCDE Board Vice President Danny Norris, Segraves, Reynolds and R.T. Garcia

“This conference is the best place to go to get pumped and excited,” she said. “The best thing I get out of this is collaboration with other teachers, plus the tips I get for my classroom are from some of the best educators around.” HCDE Superintendent Colbert told the educators about a little-known character trait they possess: the ability to see and nurture a child’s soul. “To see in children what their own parents might not see—to believe in them and to come on a Saturday so you can get better at what you do—is amazing,” he said. “Our world is troubled in many ways, but education is a powerful thing. The world will get better because we believe in our children.” Following keynote sessions with Reynolds and bilingual keynote musical educator Gilberto Soto, teachers chose from 50 breakout sessions throughout the conference day. Teaching and Learning Center curriculum directors supplied workshops alongside other area education experts. Vendor showcases lined the conference hallways, providing an interactive presence with materials, activities, games and services. First-year teacher and conference goer Sheila Muzuranic of Sundown Elementary in Katy ISD said she can’t wait to put all the new resources she gained into practice in her classroom. “I can’t wait to see how my kids will react to all the engaging activities,” she said. “I’m loving it so far.” Conference organizer Andrea Segraves said the conference theme was focused on love this year, a topic promoted by Reynolds through his prose. “Look at the love in this room,” Reynolds said, motioning to the 800 teachers. “I’m a romantic and an optimist. “It’s not a pretty world out there, but the kids can be the change. Let’s connect the dots.” (The next Early Childhood Winter Conference will be held Jan. 30, 2021. Look for more information at Source: HCDE

Adrianne Ross, Clear Creek ISD

Talented teen artists and writers in Harris County gain acclaim through the Harris County Department of Education’s Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020. From a total of 8,997 entries 1,018 Gold Key awardees advance to be judged nationally in New York City through the artistic nonprofit which inspires teens across the country. Exhibits and receptions are being hosted throughout the city in recognition of 7-12 graders from public, private and home schools: . Locations for exhibits include the Galleria and Texas Art Supply. (View awardees: ) Awards are provided for Gold Key, Silver Key and Honorable Mention recipients. Recipients come from public school districts ranging from Aldine to Waller and private schools spanning from Episcopal to The Village School. Home school students gain awards as well.

Tiffany Campbell, Klein ISD

Anthony Abarca, Aldine ISD

A total of 25 school districts, 23 private schools, several charter schools and home schools are represented as students earn Gold Key, Silver Key and honorable mention awards. Top-award Gold Key recipients advance to national judging to be considered for Gold and Silver Medals which are announced March 16 and awarded on June 4 through a ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Students submitted their work through the 800-plus teachers who support and participate in HCDE’s regional competition, said Andrea Segraves, HCDE Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program coordinator. Several hundred volunteer art and writing professionals judge the submissions. “We are grateful for the supporters of the Awards in Harris County—from the community supporters who offer space to showcase works, to the organizations who offer student scholarships, to the hundreds of jurors who volunteer their time,” said HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. “We are honored to be a 16-year regional sponsor of this iconic celebration of artistic talent.”

Medha Fotedar, Klein ISD

Vallery Orr, Spring Branch ISD

Ten students earned special-award recognition through the American Voices and American Vision awards. These 10 awards are judged nationally through Scholastic Art & Writing in New York City for the American Voices/American Visions Medals. One in each art and writing category will be selected and announced in March: American Visions: Anthony Abarca, 17, Carver High School, Aldine ISD, Photography, “Love Affair” Tiffany Campbell, 17, Klein Oak High School, Klein ISD, Digital Art, “Harvey” Medha Fotedar, 15, Klein Collins High School, Klein ISD, Drawing and Illustration, “Stunted Growth” Vallery Orr, 16, Memorial High School, Spring Branch ISD, Digital Art, “Disintegrated Identity” Adrianne Ross, 17, Clear Creek High School, Clear Creek ISD, Digital Art, “Programmed Discovery” American Voices: Chloe Beaudreau, 16, Carnegie Vanguard High School, Houston ISD, Poetry, “Photo Album” James Danziger, 14, Emery Weiner School, Private, Critical Essay, “Discrimination Without Delineation” Aditya Namjoshi, 17, Dawson High School, Pearland ISD, Humor, “The Americanized Times of Hindoostan” James Sy, 16, St. John’s School, Personal Essay/Memoir, “Thrown to the Sharks” Grace Yin, 16, Tomball Memorial High School, Tomball ISD, Poetry, “Birds” Regional awardees find common ground with alumni Scholastic Art & Writing honorees and famous writers and artists such as Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Joyce Carol Oates, Marc Brown, Sylvia Plath, Dan Fogelberg and Robert Redford.  Since 1923, the organization’s mission is to bring outstanding visual art and writing created by teens to a national audience by showcasing the work and encouraging creative career development. The following area school districts are represented: Aldine, Alief, Channelview, Clear Creek, Crosby, Cy-Fair, Deer Park, Friendswood, Fort Bend, Galena Park, Goose Creek, Harmony Public Schools, Houston, Huffman, Humble, Katy, Klein, La Porte, Lamar Consolidated, Calvin Nelms Charter, New Caney, Pasadena, Pearland, Spring Branch, Spring, Tomball and Waller. Private school with student awards include: Awty International, Annunciation Orthodox, British International School of Houston, Concordia Lutheran High School, Duchesne Academy Of Sacred Heart, Episcopal High School, Houston Christian High School, Incarnate Word Academy, Kinkaid School, Northland Christian, Presbyterian School, River Oaks Baptist School, St Agnes Academy, St Francis Episcopal Day School, Inman Academy, St. John’s School, St. John XXIII Prep, St. Pius X, St. Thomas Episcopal School, Strake Jesuit, Veritas Christian Academy, The Village School, and Emery Weiner School. Through the art categories, students gain 435 Gold Keys, 577 Silver Keys, and 917 honorable mentions. In the writing categories, students earn 583 Gold Keys, 934 Silver Keys, and 983 honorable mentions. For more information about HCDE’s regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and opportunities to sponsor, judge and enter the competition, go to  . Photos: American Visions art awardees  Anthony Abarca, Tiffany Campbell, Medha Fotedar, Vallery Orr and Adrianne Ross   Source: HCDE
Two years after suffering a huge loss, Harris County Department of Education Head Start employee Adriane Marks has reason to smile. She will soon be able to call herself a homeowner thanks to Habitat for Humanity and KPRC Channel 2. “I always knew I wanted to be a homeowner,” she said. “I thought I would have to get a realtor and do the regular process but didn’t think it was going to happen like this.” In August 2017, she lost all her possessions in the flooding from Hurricane Harvey. At the time, she and her family were living in her father’s house and still paying on it. The HCDE Head Start Data Compliance Specialist, who checks to make sure children are eligible for the head start program, was overwhelmed with the support her coworkers offered after she and her family were displaced. “My managers provided me with hair products, HCDE donated money to those of us affected by Harvey and Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock took us to her church’s clothing drive,” Marks said. “My kids were very thankful for the clothes.” After living in a hotel for about four months, they couldn’t afford to move back into the house because the payments went up after the flood renovation. They stayed with family afterwards then started renting a house, but now the rent is cost-prohibited. Marks filled out the Habitat for Humanity application in September 2019 and found out the next month when KPRC surprised her. This is the seventh house in east Houston for the news station.
“I was at a loss for words when they told me, but I am ecstatic,” she said. “My kids are very excited and are ready to move in.”
Applicants write a letter as to why they are a fit for the program by meeting one of four criteria. A panel of current habitat homeowners reads the letters and chooses the recipient based on the story. Marks has an 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. The house they are currently renting is behind a convenience store that gets robbed almost weekly, and she doesn’t feel safe there anymore. To participate in the program, each recipient must volunteer back through sweat equity hours by helping build other houses or at the ReStore center. Candidates also complete financial counseling. “My family and friends are also able to volunteer hours to show support for me during this process and it means a lot,” she said. The work on her new home started about three weeks ago and she hopes to close on it at the end of April. Her house will be 1,206 square feet and consist of three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a one-car garage. In the meantime, Marks is preparing for her new house by furniture shopping and completing her sweat equity hours. For more information about Habitat for Humanity, visit To view videos of Marks’s surprise and the home building process, visit Source: HCDE
An audience of educators pulsed with energy likened to a rock concert as America’s educator Ron Clark left the stage to autograph books and pose for cell phone photos Jan. 25. Photos: His two-hour presentation and question-and-answer session called “Move Your Bus” was hosted by Harris County Department of Education’s Teaching and Learning Center. Many of the 450 faithful followers dreamt of seeing Clark for years and gave up their Saturday for the event held in west Houston. Third grade teacher Kristina Ponce came with her three friends from Houston ISD’s Berry Elementary to get energized inspired by his stories. Ponce clutched her autographed copy of Clark’s bestseller and quoted a phrase inside. “Not everybody gets the cookie,” Ponce said. “Just showing up doesn’t get you an award. If everyone gets the reward, what’s the point of working toward it. You have to earn it.” Clark, a two-time, New York Times bestselling author, friend to Oprah and former Disney American Teacher of the Year told stories about teaching in rural Aurora, North Carolina and New York City’s Harlem. He challenged educators to challenge their students. “If you tell kids to ‘suck it up’ but it’s with love and coming from a good place, they will reach high standards, and then you’ll have great results,” Clark said. The North Carolina native spoke of a grandmother who raised him with rules and expectations like showing respect, shaking hands, and making eye contact.
“Every kid wants structure, and they want to know you are in charge and that you have discipline,” he said.
Clark runs a small, nonprofit school called Ron Clark Academy which has experienced great success. Many educators travel to the school to study and emulate the innovative practices. Teacher Ponce said she holds her students at a high standard for behavior and academic performance and as she highlights the importance of teaching manners in addition to curriculum. She hopes to visit Clark’s school one day to garner new ideas. To bring excitement into the classroom, Clark promotes music, movement and creative thinking processes. One of his activity examples includes allowing students to blow up balloons and solving a math challenge problem on the balloon. Students successfully answering the problem with a marker get to pop the balloon. Furr High School Assistant Principal Brian Roberson volunteered as an ambassador at the event and helped prepare for the big crowd and the big day. His takeaway for the day was to spread creativity. “Think outside the box,” he said. “We have set curriculum, but the way you deliver that curriculum can be unique. To be the most creative educator you can be can transform not only the classroom, but the community as a whole.” For more continuing education events sponsored through the Teaching and Learning Center at HCDE or for customized trainings at your school or district, go to http://www.hcde-texas/workshop-registration or call 713-696-1315. Source: HCDE
Amy Hinojosa is the newly appointed board member to Position 1, Precinct 2 for the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. The Pasadena native, wife and mother of two teenagers still resides in and serves the community where she grew up and says she takes the calling to serve the citizens of Precinct 2 very seriously. She is committed to serving adult learners within her community and looks forward to assessing facilities improvements needed within HCDE. HCDE provides GED and English as a second language classes along with workforce training at no cost to adult learners in Harris and Liberty counties and operates four special schools for area school districts which serve students with emotional and intellectual disabilities and recovering youth. As a process engineer, she is employed by Chevron Corporation as project manager in technology development. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston. Hinojosa is passionate about giving local youth the same opportunities she has received. “I am from Pasadena, and I am a first-generation college student, so I see myself in those kids,” she said. “Be who you needed when you were young.” Hinojosa shares her passion for education through several student and professional mentoring initiatives. As the founder of Community Leaders Encouraging Academia Through Sports, Inc. or CLEATS, she heads a Pasadena-area, youth athletic program which allows students to explore their college futures by visiting local universities. “My journey in education started as a little league volunteer, where I realized I could use sports as an avenue to get the children in my community on our local university campuses,” she said. During 2020, Hinojosa serves as director on the board of ProUnitas, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness for health and wellness resources for youth to be successful in school and beyond.  She continues to grow her leadership skills as a Houston Leadership ISD 2020 fellow and a Houston Latinos for Education 2019 fellow. Hinojosa describes herself as being “passionate about compassion for all animals” as she claims poodle Bruno and cocker spaniel Elvis as additional family members. Source: HCDE
The unique story of Choice Partners–the Harris County Department of Education one-stop cooperative for construction, food and facilities–is best told through its loyal clients and vendors. On Jan. 24, approximately 100 vendors and members were honored at Choice Partners’ annual appreciation luncheon. Guest speaker HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. praised attendees for supporting public education through providing and utilizing competitively bid contracts with Choice Partners. “Today we provide even more services to area school districts and have lowered the tax rate five years in a row,” the superintendent said. “A lot of that is because of the vendors and members in this room today who work with us through Choice.” Colbert pointed to the funds which flow from Choice and are leveraged to supply services to area school districts, including the new Fortis Academy, the county’s first free drug recovery public high school. Revenue generated through Choice has grown from $92 million 10 years ago to $130 million today, allowing for local tax rates to be lowered while pumping money into new education initiatives to serve Harris County students. Profits from Choice are unique in the fact that the funds go back to the education community, said Jeff Drury, Choice Partners director. Customer Rick Gay, procurement director with Spring Branch Independent School District, says his district uses Choice for its reasonable and competitive pricing and time-saving processes. “Choice Partners gives us an opportunity to very quickly bring to end-users the materials and supplies they need on a day-to-day basis for us to get the job done, which is to educate our children,” Gay said. “Our mantra is every dollar we save is a dollar we return to the classroom.” His district depends heavily on Choice for job order contracting which allows for small construction jobs or quick repairs: a door replacement, air-conditioning problems or painting. “These JOC contracts are reasonable and easy-to-use and allow us to move quickly to solve a problem,” Gay said. Vendor Facilities Sources was the top vendor honored at the luncheon. Company president David Terry said the competitively bid, line-item contracts available through Choice were critical during the rebuilding period, post-Harvey. Humble Independent School District called Facilities Sources as a Choice Partners vendor. FEMA approval for repairing the 500,000 square-foot Kingwood High after the category five hurricane came quickly because of the transparent pricing. “Pricing was established prior to the storm, so clients could be assured they weren’t getting some inflated, out-of-town contractor pricing,” said Terry. “It allowed students to be back into school within 90 days, whereas they thought they were going to lose an entire school year because of the damage from Harvey.” As a cooperative, Terry said he values the Choice Partners reputation for servicing clients and auditing the process while maintaining the quality of vendors. “That reputation helps you get in the door because our clients know it’s a valid co-op, a local co-op,” Terry said. “If they need something, HCDE is responsive to their needs.” Spring Branch ISD director Gay said he is very satisfied with the service he gets from Choice, as well as the clear contracts and pricing. “I would encourage everyone to take a look at co-ops in general, but Choice Partners is probably one of the premiere cooperatives out there,” he said. “Their customer service is second to none.” For more information: Source: HCDE