Layne Thomas-Faust lives by the phrase waste not, want not. When the HCDE Facilities Division employee was tasked with decorating a lobby holiday tree at Irvington office, he decided to use a box of mini-sanitizers encased in red-rubber holders.
When asked how he came up with the idea, he said he found the box of errant sanitizers in the storeroom and decided they might make good tree-trimmers. He and co-worker Eric Schoellman got busy.
Joshua Wright, 6, has so many friends in first grade that he has “lost count.”
As the new face on the cover of Harris County Department of Education’s programs and services pamphlet, he is beaming with confidence and poise.
Thousands of the brochures were mailed to Harris County residents this past month. Joshua’s mother Taylor received numerous calls from family and friends announcing his new superstar status.
“People keep calling and saying, ‘there is a pamphlet in my mail with Joshua’s photo on the front,’” Mom Taylor Wright said. “He is so proud of himself, and he loves the attention.”
Joshua attended school at HCDE’s Fifth Ward Head Start Center. As a single mom, Taylor saw her son’s newfound confidence as the 4-year old learned sight words, starred in plays and gained the social skills he would need in elementary school. She also accepted support from the family service provider as the family was assisted with counseling and other resources during hard times.
“He is definitely ahead of the curve in his school,” she said. “Head Start gave us a great, close-knit community.”
Joshua’s two brothers, close in age, also attended Head Start and have gained the advantage with social skills and academics before entering school. As “the Wright brothers,” the band of three stick together like peanut butter and jelly.
“They are a little jealous,” Joshua concedes, pointing to his photo on the pamphlet.
Armed with a dozen brochures, Joshua plans on sharing them with friends and family.
“I have lots of friends at school, and we like playing cops and robbers and hide-and-seek,” he said.
In front of the video camera, he points out that “learning is important.”
“I’m learning Spanish,” he said, counting from one to 10 in his new second language.
Shrugging his shoulders, Joshua’s ready to go because he doesn’t know what else to say.
Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Business Services has gained the “Award for Best Practices in School Budgeting” for fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2020.
Awarded through the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), the honor is given to organizations demonstrating a budget process aligned with GFOA’s best practice recommendations.
HCDE was also awarded the “Recognition for Implementing Best Practices in School Budgeting” for fiscal year ending in Aug. 31, 2019.
The GFOA, founded in 1906, represents public finance officials throughout the United States and Canada. The association’s more than 20,000 members are federal, state/provincial and local finance officials involved in planning, financing and implementing thousands of governmental operations.
Managing records might be viewed as a ho-hum job to some, but Harris County Department of Education Records Management records technician Brandon Fisher knows better. View video: https://youtu.be/PpEmStL4bJg Flashback to Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, when the division’s 15 employees worked like first responders to get vulnerable records to higher ground. The city of Galveston and Galveston ISD were two examples of the numerous customers needing assistance. Records Management delivery employees were met by police escorts to navigate the floodwaters and debris to save the vulnerable, historical records.
“When people need their documents protected, these are the things we do,” said Fisher, an 11-year HCDE employee who exudes energy and optimism.
As part of his daily duties, Fisher scans documents belonging to the hundreds of customers the division serves. He is on-the-go each day scanning, shredding, retrieving and delivering boxes from warehouse shelves. Nothing differentiates one document from another, he says, as each is equally important. Its purpose could range from being a tax document to a piece of critical evidence in a crime scene. Most Harris County and area school districts use Records’ services. The business was born in 1991 after enactment of the 1989 records act which requires certified storage of government documents. City and county municipalities are also accommodated through interlocal agreements. Over 600,000 paper, microfiche and scanned/digitized documents are stored at the massive storage space at 6005 Westview. “Brandon is a really good asset for this division,” Records Management Director Curtis Davis said. “He can talk to anyone. Being the employee of the month is a wonderful thing for Brandon and this division.” Before HCDE, Fisher worked as a deliveryman in Wharton, a small town southwest of Houston where he was raised. After the recession, he looked for jobs in Houston and was hired at HCDE. While he knew the delivery business, he admitted he didn’t know how to put customers first. At Records Management, the young man grew his customer relations skills. “Paying attention to what the customer is saying is very important,” he said. “It helps because I’m a people person. I love to talk, and I love to listen so I can understand.” Records Management is a like family, and each person is dependent on the other to get the job done, he explained.
“We are all on the same playing field here, and we must do what needs to be done to get the job done,” he said.
An early riser, Fisher claims breakfast as his favorite meal and admits a fondness for staples like French toast, bacon and eggs, especially on the weekends. The morning charge of energy fuels his fervor for cars. His passion for beautiful automobiles led to the creation of a side business in auto detailing. Caring for his customers has made him no. 1 on several social media platforms. “What I learned about customer care at HCDE took my private business to a whole new level,” he said. Fisher services all types of cars but specializes in exotic like Porches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Many of his customers are billionaires, the not-so-famous wealthy who live under the radar. His personal favorite is the Bentley, a car known for both beauty and speed, he said. The most expensive car he serviced was a $6 million, Puchadi Hydra. He also detailed a 1965 Ford Mustang which was the third one off the factory line, making it a collector car. Many of the cars Fisher services are not driven but shuttled by plane to showcase all over the world. Grounded in his HCDE family, he says he loves the time spent at his job and is thankful for the people and the benefits his job offers. “My philosophy is that you have to be a forever learner,” he said. “Records Management has taught me a lot about how to interact with customers, and I really don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for HCDE. Source: HCDE
Our Academic and Behavior School West opened this year during the pandemic. Because we couldn’t have a ribbon-cutting ceremony or open house, we’re sharing this virtual tour with our community.
Area educators gained valuable training for active shooter scenarios with Harris County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jeff McGowen on Nov. 12. The two-hour, online training was hosted through the Center for Safe and Secure Schools. “Civilian Response to Active Shooters Events (CRASE)” was free and allowed teachers and administrators to “think through” various school crime scenarios.
Some takeaways from CRASE:
When you find yourself in an open area with active shooter:
Seek immediate protection. Find a safe area and secure it the best you can.
Put something between you and the shooter.
Think it through: Is escape the option? Do you know where shooter is? Is escape immediately available.
Know your building’s floor plans.
When reporting the shooting to authorities:
State your specific location: building name, office and classroom number.
Report number of people at your specific location.
Let authorities know number of people injured and type of injuries.
When law enforcement officer enters room:
Do not present a threat to officers.
Do not point at officers or the shooter.
Do not make quick movements.
Do not run towards them or attempt to hug them.
Do not scream or yell.
Messages of hand-crafted joy sealed in envelopes are on their way to young patients at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Head Start students at Harris County Department of Education’s Head Start Center at Barrett Station participated in the “Holiday Cheer Cards” project through a collaborative with community partner Triose, Inc. and the Texas Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Triose is a national healthcare solutions company which helps medical institutions. The company’s Houston regional office provided individual art kits for students to create the cards.
Several of the Triose employees mentor children at the Head Start center through a program called SuperMENtors Read, a male, role-model volunteer initiative supported through HCDE Head Start.
“Being a SuperMENtor has been extremely rewarding,” said Antonio Lozano district manager of field operations for Triose. “I enjoy being a part of something bigger than myself and giving back in a way that is meaningful to me.”
Equipped with markers, crayons and stickers the 3-year olds added personal touches to the holiday cards. Many of their older siblings created their own greetings at home to contribute to the project.
“Parents became inspired and started to bring us Christmas cards made by Head Start siblings who also wanted to be a part of the ‘spirit of giving’,” said Sylvia Davis, HCDE Head Start family services provider at the center.
“We believe that children hold the key to the future,” Davis said. “Research studies show that children who start early in childhood the spirit of giving through community service become responsible adults. This project fits in nicely within our Head Start curriculum that promotes community service.”
Lozano said he usually goes into the center once a month with a book and reads to a classroom of students at the center in Crosby, but the pandemic has put a halt on outside visitors. Sending in the holiday card kits give his mentees a little holiday spirit as they share their artwork with children in the hospital.
“I am fortunate to have the opportunity to give back to my community, and even more so to be able to partner with organizations like Head Start who we’re willing to take on this project with us while teaching the values of giving back and creating a sense of community with the students,” he said.
For a second consecutive year, Harris County Department of Education gains notoriety as one of Houston’s Top large workplaces through the Houston Chronicle’s Top Workplaces 2020 program. View photos: https://tinyurl.com/y5aqnolb The Top Workplace program is unique because employees weigh in on their employer through a survey where participants remain anonymous. Topics include leadership, work-life balance, training, cooperation and pay/benefits. Companies are judged in three categories: small, medium and large companies. Top Workplaces rankings are determined by a scientific employee survey provided by Energage, an independent research company partnering with the Chronicle for the past 11 years. This year, 130 employers earned recognition as Top Workplaces in the three categories as 3,000 companies applied for the award. Eight-five percent of HCDE’s employees responded to the survey. HCDE was ranked no. 13 in the large company category, a 46 percent improvement over last year’s ranking of no. 24. “This honor shows that HCDE has a family culture and spirit which is valued by our employees,” HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. said. “During this past year, adversity has come our way here and there, but that has done nithing but bring our employees closer together as a family. We are proud we have been able to support our families during the pandemic as we continue to provide high-quality education services to our clients. “HCDE is one of the best places I have worked in my career as a leader in education.”
Human Resources employee Monserrat Witine delivers Top Workplace cupcake to Cecile Porche, Head Start
HCDE provides education services to school districts and the community through a wide array of programs. Five pillar programs include afterschool, Head Start, special schools, school-based therapy services and adult education. Educator Dr. Colina Poullard works as HCDE curriculum director for digital education and innovation. As a teacher trainer, she says she likes working for HCDE because it allows her to serve a large sector of educators.
“Outside of just serving just one district, we get to serve educators in all 25 districts in Harris County, and beyond,” she said.
Employee Amy Thompson works for Educator Certification and Advancement, a HCDE division which trains professionals to become teachers, principals and superintendents.
“I value working at HCDE because everyone works as a partner here for the benefit of the students in greater Harris County, and all our hearts are into it,” Thompson said. Head Start employee Gino Kamaya appreciates the benefits programs offered by HCDE, he said. The department contributes to both Teacher Retirement System and Social Security and observes many school holidays, a plus for working parents. “Plus, the leadership team really cares about employees, and that’s the main reason I love working here,” Kamaya said.
Superintendent Colbert said he is humbled that HCDE employees think so highly of the organization they work for.
“I can’t help but think they feel that way because of the trustees and administration and the valuable work in education that all our employees do which has purpose in the community,” Colbert said.
HCDE was founded in 1889 and employees approximately 1,100 employees. Other community programs and services the department provides include a purchasing cooperative, teacher training and records management. Source: HCDE
Four high-profile law professionals found common ground with troubled and recovering teens as the Harris County Department of Education Schools Division sponsored “The Law Society” Nov. 6.
Students from Highpoint Schools, HCDE’s school for adjudicated and troubled youth and Fortis Academy, HCDE’s school for recovering teens joined a virtual meeting with Harris County Judge Jeremy L. Brown, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Loudoun County Schools Certified Psychologist Dr. Charles A. Barrett and Harris County Deputy Sheriff H. Ihejirikah Jr.
During the hour-long Zoom session, guests fielded questions posed by HCDE Schools Division staff Nkechinyere Ihejirikah Washington and Gabriela Hernandez. The panel answered questions about overcoming hardships as teens, family dynamics, inequities in society, perceptions of law enforcement as youth and general advice on getting through adolescence.
At age 6, Gonzalez realized his father couldn’t read or write, and he was determined to get an education and become a lifelong learner.
“You should never stop learning and growing,” the sheriff said.
Judge Brown admitted to teens that he had issues with authority figures telling him what to do as a teen.
“I have to take a step back when people talk to me and take direction from what they are saying,” the judge said.
When asked to define trauma, Barrett said he sees it as any circumstance which makes one feel unsafe and affects you physically or emotional. Examples given included gang violence or living in a violent household.
“Trauma does affect you,” he said. “It affects how much you pay attention in school and can have mental health and behavior effects.”
In Harris County, 90,000 children each year must deal with a parent who is incarcerated, Gonzalez noted. Those children inherit the trauma and often become statistics in the criminal justice system themselves.
For advice on overcoming adversity, Ihejirikah urged teens to be patient in their youth and enjoy the moment.
“Enjoy your experiences, no matter how tumultuous and no matter how joyous those occasions are,” he said. “Experiences add to your character, your life story.”
Gonzalez shared his positive outlook on growing up, suggesting that teens look to mentors and friends for help.
“If you are going through depression, it’s okay to talk to others,” he said. “We’re all vulnerable, but don’t stay in that place.”
Celebrating its 35th year, the R.T. Garcia Early Childhood Winter Conference is set for Jan. 30, 2021 from 8 a.m.3:30 p.m. Held virtually this year, the conference provides national presenters Eric Litwin, New York Times bestselling children’s author and guitar-strumming hero. Dual keynote speaker Kenneth Wesson, consultant and child neuroscience expert, provides insight on how young brains work. The conference attracts approximately 1,000 educators of children in grades pre-k through second and includes breakout sessions from local and national presenters. Attendees leave with lessons and ideas which may be used in the classroom immediately.
Litwin is the author of Pete the Cat series; The Nuts; and Groovy Joe. He is also a musician-storyteller as he sings and performs on the guitar and harmonica.
Wesson’s presentation is entitled: “Early Brain Research and Dealing with Today’s New Normal in Early Learning.” The neuroscience researcher often poses the question: “If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?” Conference breakout sessions supplied by local and national presenters include child growth and development; diversity and dual-language learners; family and community relationships; learning environments; planning framework; and curriculum and standards. A virtual vendor section provides educational materials and products. The largest early childhood conference in Texas is named after former HCDE Board President R.T. Garcia, a longtime supporter of early childhood education. Cost of the conference is $75. Attend the live sessions and pose questions and comments through a virtual platform or view the sessions post-conference. Register today: https://tinyurl.com/ECWC21. Source: HCDE