“Oh, I love to swim!” exclaimed Fortis Academy science teacher Lopamudra Gupta. “I think I used to be pretty good. I was on the cover of sports magazines.”

A Harris County Department of Education employee for nearly 18 years, Gupta first started working for the Department as a teacher at the former High Point School North before it was reimagined into what is now Fortis Academy.

Lopamudra Gupta poses for a photograph in her classroom at Fortis Academy, April 23, 2018.

“I was a competitive swimmer and I represented my state, [West Bengal, India], in the national games,” said Gupta. “I do have a competitive nature. Not in the sense that I would compete with somebody in a negative way, but for myself. I want to always do better than what I did before, and I think I bring that to teaching. I always want to do more for the kids.”

Her supervisor, Fortis Academy Principal Anthony Moten couldn’t agree more.

“She’s an exceptional teacher,” he said. “She has an uncanny ability to connect with our kids and get them engaged in science. That’s a yeoman’s task, even with exceptional young students. For her to be able to have our kids gravitate towards that content and excel in it says a lot about her.”

Gupta emphasizes that her love of teaching isn’t so much about the subject matter as it is about how much she loves her students.

“It’s not just about teaching science, it’s about opening their minds,” she said. “It’s not that they cannot, it’s that no one has taken them the time to show them the possibilities. Sometimes their family settings are not conducive to learning. Sometimes things happen at home, and I have to understand that biology is not the priority for them in that moment.”

Moten describes Gupta as the “quintessential mother on campus” who shies away from attention.

“She could be our teacher of the year, but she doesn’t want it. She doesn’t want the attention,” said Moten. “She’s not in it for that. She’s very unselfish. She’s truly here for the kids.”

As a testimony to her efforts, Gupta saw six of her students graduate in the midst of the pandemic last year.

“I was so ecstatic!” she exclaimed. “If they were at a traditional school, they might have dropped out. We drove all over the city to all of their homes to do drive-by graduations. Watching them celebrate made my heart sing.”

Moten, to whom Gupta credits much of her success, is determined to recognize her contributions at the school.

“When she leaves, I’m going to name a hallway after her,” Moten jokes. “She’s not only a one-of-kind person, she’s the hallmark of what an exceptional teacher looks like.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that!” Gupta responds. “I always give him ‘the look’ so he stops talking about the hallway. I really like working at Fortis. My coworkers are not coworkers anymore. They are family. But I don’t know about the hallway.”

In the meantime, Moten will have to make do with her presence.

“Mrs. Gupta is going to be at Fortis for as long as I am here,” said Moten. “And I don’t have plans to go anywhere.”

Source: HCDE
This year, more than 100,000 teens submitted their best art and writing in more than 100 regions across the country. A total of 8,874 works were submitted for adjudication in Harris County. From these submissions, over 2,400 creative teens from Harris County received regional honors, including Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention, and American Visions & Voices nominations from HCDE, including: Gold Key Awards – Art, American Visions Nominees • Landen Tran-Nguyen, 8th grade, League City Intermediate School, work title: “Power” • Sofia Liu, 11th grade, Kinkaid School, work title: “Undefeated: All Hands on Deck” • Zariah Parker, 12th grade, Cypress Ridge High School, work title: “Help Me Out” • Ivan Payton, 11th grade, Klein Collins High School, work title: “Digital Prey” • Katherine Xie, 7th grade, Berry Miller Junior High School, work title: “You and Me” Gold Key Awards – Writing, American Voices Nominees • Natalie Dinh, 11th grade, Kerr High School, work title: “Mother” • Alena Haney, 10th grade, Episcopal High School, work title: “Excerpt from “Hunt”” • Sai Kaushik, 10th grade, Glenda Dawson High School, work title: “Martin and  Bobby” • Alex Watson, 11th grade, Kinkaid School, work title: “Daddy Dearest” • Avani Yaltho, 7th grade, Veritas Christian Academy, work title: “Paper Swan” Image of the five artworks. An award signifies to parents, teachers, the community, and colleges that a student is an accomplished artist or writer and offers creative teens the opportunity to earn recognition, exhibition, publication, and up to $10,000 in scholarships. Works that receive Gold Key recognition at the regional level are automatically submitted for national adjudication. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, no regional in-person ceremonies, receptions or exhibitions will take place this year. A virtual gallery with the art and written works will be made public at a later date. Additionally, a virtual ceremony recognizing the regional awardees will take place in late March. For the full list of 2021 awardees, updates and more information about the regional awards, please visit hcde-texas.org/scholastic-awards. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Medalists will be announced on March 17, 2021. The national ceremony will be live-streamed on June 9.
Jan. 1, 2021 – Two at-large, Harris County Department of Education trustees were sworn into office Jan. 1, 2021. Erica Davis replaces Michael Wolfe for Position 5 At-Large and David W. Brown was elected for Don Sumner’s Position 7 At-Large seat.
  “We are all so excited you are here,” said Board President Eric Dick. “We are looking forward to you being a part of the team.” “Now more than ever, HCDE’s services provide critical support for area school districts,” HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. said. “As the districts’ needs change, we evolve to bring them the resources they need. During the pandemic and in its aftermath, we’re here for our education community.” Davis currently serves as chief of staff for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen. Brown is an educator who works for Change Happens, a nonprofit headquartered in the Third Ward that provides mentoring, drug prevention and other services to low-income youth. The ceremony taking place in HCDE’s Board Room at 6300 Irvington Blvd. was presided over by Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier. The new board members will officially preside over HCDE Board matters at the Jan. 20 board meeting. January is official Board Appreciation Month, whereby the entire board of seven members will be recognized for its public service. Find out more about HCDE services and programs at http://www.hcde-texas.org . Source: HCDE


An upbeat group of health professionals check into Norma Nieto’s English as a second language Zoom class. Isaac Acquah, a Ghana native, is talking about moving to a new apartment in Houston. Nima Ahmadi, from Iran, chimes in as crime becomes the topic. The English conversation class offered as a collaboration between Harris County Department of Education’s Adult Education and Houston Methodist is unique because all its students have earned their doctorate degrees and are foreign professionals. The highly educated group shares vast cultural differences but are joined by the goal to acclimate. Ahmadi is a computer analytics expert, a problem-solver who reduces computer errors for medical professionals. Acquah is a post-doctorate student working in cardiovascular research who is intent on improving his writing skills. The project between Methodist and HCDE wraps up a first semester this month, with more classes planned in 2021. It came about as a Methodist recruiter visited with Workforce Solutions and the benefits of HCDE’s ESL classes were mentioned. Methodist’s academic institute employs approximately 900 employees, and a predominate portion are foreign nationals. “Sometimes communication can be an issue,” said Amber Kennedy, recruitment team, Methodist Hospital human resources. “The ESL program seemed to be a perfect fit.” Conversation skills and business writing are the main goals of the program. Situational conversation requires customized lesson plans that might include safety issues, American customs and traditions and idioms, sarcasm and slang. “It has been a great satisfaction to help them improve their English skills, help them understand American culture and learn about the culture from the countries they come from,” said Nieto, who expresses gratitude upon teaching the inaugural class. Each student underwent an assessment test as they entered the program. In the beginning, students shared their language challenges with Nieto. “The curriculum was heavily involved by their needs,” she said. “They would let me know what they wanted to learn, and I would come up with material to meet those needs.” Tonight, the conversation settles on Christmas traditions and the problems of crime in a large city. In past weeks Nieto helped students craft email greetings and worked through various communication scenarios. Ahmadi is working on informal conversation skills. During the holidays, he will take advantage of the USA Learns software, an ESL software offered by HCDE which complements classroom learning. Idioms are a source of intrigue to the 38-year-old professional. Out-of-the-box is one he now understands along with “every cloud has a silver lining.” The class gives the professionals a no judgement space to practice conversation, pronunciation and join in a sense of camaraderie. Acquah looks forward to the class advancing to the next level so he can gain more English writing skills. As a researcher, he is required to produce papers.
“I hate it when there are red marks,” he said, jesting about his intermediate English writing skills.
Nieto says she is honored to teach the researchers from Methodist. “I have enjoyed our time together getting to know about them and the great research they are doing at Methodist that will benefit our community,” she said. Kennedy stresses the benefits of the collaborative between HCDE and Methodist. Other departments in Houston Methodist are considering using the ESL professional classes.
“We’ve had a great relationship with HCDE,” Kennedy said. “We’ve put in a good amount of hours with our partnership, we’re glad we have even able to initiate this and look forward to expanding it.”
(HCDE Adult Education provides classes in GED preparation, English as a second language and other workforce development programs in construction and medical fields throughout Harris County. Programs are supported through the Texas Workforce Commission. To inquire about future classes in the medical assistant certification program, go to http://www.hcde-texas.org/adulteducation.) Source: HCDE

As the illiteracy rate continues to grow in Houston, local experts believe that learning disabilities like dyslexia are a factor. The virtual biannual Dyslexia Summit 2021 scheduled for Jan. 16 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. is helping to provide strategies to support Houston-area dyslexic students.

“This is an underserved area that people are just at the tip of the iceberg understanding,” Harris County Department of Education Curriculum Director of Special Populations Brenda Arteaga said. “The Mayor’s Office released a report showing that Houston’s illiterate population has increased from a quarter of the population to a third of the population in the past four years.”

Three keynote speakers from the Neuhaus Education Center serve as keynote speakers. The nonprofit educational foundation is dedicated to promoting reading success. The summit’s focus is “Innovation in Dyslexia Services: A Virtual Event.” The purpose is to bring innovative strategies to students identified with dyslexia and to provide support to parents.

Traditionally, teachers, administrators, parents and community members attend the event.

Presenter Allison Peck leads a session called “Real Talk about Dyslexia.: The Top 10 Things I have Learned as a Parent and Educator.” Peck gives a personal journey into understanding and embracing dyslexia.

Alison Peck

“By sharing real talk about dyslexia, I believe all families can survive and thrive,” she said. Her child’s journey with dyslexia led her to become a special education teacher to help others with reading disabilities. Peck is currently the vice president of professional learning at Neuhaus.

Rebecca Tolson

Rebecca Tolson, vice president of literacy initiatives for Neuhaus, is a second presenter. Tolson specializes in using structured literacy techniques as intervention for dyslexia and dysgraphia. She has a doctorate in elementary education from University of Akron and is a certified language therapist and a certified dyslexia therapist.

Barbara Conway

Neuhaus’s Barbara Conway provides a third session focusing on struggles with reading at older grade levels. The session explores what it takes to be a proficient reader at any age and examines ways to help older readers get basic skills they need for reading and meaning by using longer, more sophisticated words.

Cost for the Dyslexia Summit is $99. Attendees get a book or online subscription from Neuhaus with registration. Register: https://tinyurl.com/DyslexiaSummit21 .

Source: HCDE
For the first time in 22 years of gifting rehabbed cars to needy moms, Bates Collision Centers presents keys to a young father whose daughter is enrolled in Harris County Department of Education Head Start. The historic moment will be celebrated in person, outside the Bates Collison Center, 3219 N. Main St. in Baytown, on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 10 a.m. Dad John Rose and daughter Journee join owners Lee and Leila Bates, their staff and community to unwrap the mystery vehicle filled with gifts and equipped with insurance for six months. The 22nd Annual Bates Responsible Parenting Awards provides “helping out with a hand up” as the Bates and their staff spend months rehabbing a collision vehicle and gifts it to a deserving parent. The 32-year-old father works as a truck driver for Amazon. He says he has turned his life around after getting into trouble in his younger years. Daughter Journee, 4, attends the HCDE Head Start at Fifth Ward. Her dad also volunteers at the center through a leadership group called the Policy Council. “This car is going to change my life because I won’t have to take the bus anymore,” John said. “I will be able to take my daughter to school every morning. It’s important to be in my child’s education.” The Bates make the annual giveaway a priority because they recognize the sacrifices parents often make in order to provide for their children. Journee is a precocious, bright child with a big vocabulary. She is enthusiastic about learning sight words and is enamored with her father. She will be presented with her own ride, a bike with training wheels. “Most kids just want to play in school, but Journee wants to go to school to learn,” her dad said. Co-owner Lee Bates was immediately impressed by John’s application which was submitted by the center manager. John wrote an essay about his life as part of the application process. “He owned his mistakes in his life and wants to be a good father for his daughter,” Lee said. Bates co-owner Leila says both she and her husband Lee are proud of their employees who continue to supply time and resources to families they have yet to meet. “Putting cars back on the road is part of our daily grind, but this is putting families back on the road,” she said. “We have a giving staff, and this project brings our entire team together.” Leila sees the difference the project makes, from the Bates employees to the families receiving the cars. Car no. 39 will be equally as special for all parties concerned. “Seeing our team’s faces light up is a gift for us,” she said. “The gift of transportation is a game changer.” Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock said she is excited to kick off the holiday season with this event. “The generosity of the Bates family and their staff fills our hearts with joy each year,” she said. “This program embodies our goal at HCDE Head Start to build school readiness and success with our families.” HCDE Head Start serves families of children ages six weeks to age 5 with 14 Head Start centers located in north to northeast Harris County. Income-eligible families and children with disabilities gain free Head Start services to help equip children with academic and social skills for school readiness. Families receive support services in the school readiness program through community partners. For more information about Head Start, visit http://www.hcde-texas.org/Head-Start.   Source: HCDE

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.

“Only in 2020,” Thomas-Faust said.

View the video: https://youtu.be/49FkBLM1Zjk

Source: HCDE

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.

Except yes. He will do autographs.

(For more information about Head Start services at HCDE, access http://www.hcde-texas.org/head-start .)

Source: HCDE

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.

Source: HCDE
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