As the school bells ring around greater Houston this August, Harris County Department of Education is already delivering year-round services to school districts, educators and students in 26 districts and beyond.
HCDE continues to evolve since 1889 to meet the changing needs of its clients. Historically, county school districts governed the school districts, but as independent districts formed, HCDE tailored its services to meet those districts’ needs. Today HCDE serves 26 districts in Harris County and is only one of two functioning county districts in Texas.* Districts depend on the Department for critical services like after-school programs, training for education professionals, and schools for special-needs, emotionally disturbed children and adjudicated youth.
As far as funding goes, only 17 percent of the HCDE budget, about $14 million, comes from Harris County taxpayers. For a homeowner with a $100,000 home, that is $6.29 yearly. From that small tax base, HCDE is able to leverage another 83 percent through competitive federal, state and local grants, fees-for-service and donations. These funds are used to provide services to local educational organizations with an emphasis on school districts, charter schools and the general education community.
In return for those tax dollars, the Department renders a myriad of specialty education services for school districts and the general populous. Services include adult education services; special schools for disabled or emotionally disturbed children; intervention for developmentally delayed children birth to 3. Our purchasing co-ops lend stronger buying power for smaller districts, enabling them to purchase food, general supplies and even fuel at lower cost.
Without HCDE, school districts would have to fund these programs, thereby adding the burden of additional staff, facilities, and other challenges associated with the implementation of such programs and services.
When the school day ends, the Cooperative for After-School Enrichment division, or CASE, provides quality and innovative after-school programs for some 14,000 students throughout greater Harris County.
Since its inception in 1999, CASE has been awarded almost $73 million in competitive grant awards from state and federal sources that reach out and touch students in area districts that include Houston, Waller, Pasadena, Alief, Aldine, Fort Bend, Spring, Cypress-Fairbanks, Goose Creek, North Forest, Sheldon and state and local charter schools. The grants help CASE and the school districts offer quality after-school model programs to schools and nonprofits. Quality after-school programming educates and safeguards students in area districts, while at the same time, enriching their lives.
CASE Director Shannon Bishop was honored in 2005-2006 with the responsibility to serve this year as After-School Ambassador for the After-School Alliance, a national nonprofit that advances after-school initiatives. CASE quality programs are recognized throughout the nation as the division follows a mission to provide “after school for all” by building partnerships and providing resources, leadership and training to support quality after-school programs.
In addition to touching the lives of families, after-school enrichment is equally important to communities. Between the hours 3-6 p.m.when many parents are still at workjuvenile crime rates rise. Childhood injuries are also known to increase during that window of time between when the school bell rings and when parents arrive home.
Most importantly, nationwide statistics confirm that after-school programs can actually improve student achievement and self esteem. One popular CASE program allows kids exposure to careers in math, science and the arts through planned curriculum with volunteers in corporations and non-profits.
HCDE’s after-school program puts emphasis on quality. For example, one of CASE’s initiatives, the Kids’ Day project, exposes students to careers in math, science, technology and the arts through partnerships with companies and organizations. In short, CASE is a pioneer in the after-school arena providing model programs that are nationally recognized as being innovative and on the cutting edge.
Research shows school readiness is key to student success, and HCDE operates 18 highly successful Head Start centers in northeast Harris County, serving about 1,200 children from low-income families each year, from 43 community zip codes. This federally funded program provides children ages 3-5, as well as special needs children, with activities that help them grow mentally, socially, emotionally and physically. The Head Start staff recognizes that they are the first and most important teachers of children, so staff is dedicated to empowering parents.
Professional Development for Educators:
Six days a week, educators arrive at HCDE headquarters at 6300 Irvington Blvd. in northeast Houston to gain continuing education credits from instructional specialists in subjects ranging from classroom management, instructional areas, school security and emergency preparedness, classroom technology to after-school programming.
Last year, nearly 8,000 educators benefited from specialized instruction administered by the Department’s instructional specialists. HCDE specialists deliver the latest instructional methodologies in critical subject areas like math, science, English, bilingual studies, social studies, early childhood development and gifted-and-talented instruction. The professional education credits required for thousands of area educators are rendered for a nominal fee or sometimes free of charge.
Six HCDE schools benefit 27 school districts and numerous families and students of by serving children who need specialty services and one-on-one attention not necessarily afforded in the traditional classroom environment. For the districts we serve, it’s more economically sound to contract with our highly qualified, specialized staff than to develop programs within those individual school districts.
Our Special Schools enroll students through school district referrals and serve about 1,200 students yearly. The benefit to schools is that we teach select populations of special needs and emotionally disturbed students ages 5-21 within our Academic and Behavior Centers. Individual academic lesson plans are complimented with equally important programs that enhance students’ social skills. This consolidation of services is cost efficient for the school districts of Harris County.
We also assist school districts who need special assistance with expelled and adjudicated youth grades 6-12 by offering a program that fosters self-discipline, respect and social skills while students get on-track with academic progress. Again, this consolidation across Harris County districts proves cost efficient.
The goal is for all students to become successful so they may return to their home districts and schools.
One block away from HCDE headquarters in northeast Houston, adult education students arrive for lessons in English as a second language, adult literacy and GED preparation. Each year, HCDE serves 10,000 students and helps about 400 students attain their GEDs between two satellite locations and 80 community sites. Many more gain the rudimentary reading and writing skills critical to becoming employed.
Our cadre of qualified teachers and staff utilize dedication in their flexibility to traveling to the immobile adult education communities where we are needed the most.
HCDE is host agency for Texas LEARNS, organized by the Texas Education Agency in 2003, funded by the state, and housed at HCDE. The organization oversees the statewide technical assistance and grant management issues in relation to adult education. It is also responsible for providing professional development for adult education teachers throughout the state.
Special Education-Related Services:
While the comprehensive services required in special education are cost-prohibitive for many districts, our contracted services with school districts provide quality, caring and evidence-based teaching for about 9,000 children each year.
School districts benefit from our Special Education-Related Services division, contracting with us for a specialized staff of 300 physical, occupational and speech therapists, in-home trainers, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, art therapists and counselors.
HCDE staff travel to schools, homes and daycare centers–wherever the infant, toddler or school-aged children are receiving their education. Staff provides assessment, intervention, consultation, training and direct services each year to more than 8,500 children with disabilities and their families.
Early Childhood Intervention Keep Pace
In 2002, we became host agency for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Keep Pace which is also funded through the state. ECI Keep Pace is a statewide service that assists families of developmentally delayed children from birth to age 3 so they will be better prepared for school when that day comes. Almost 2,000 children each year are served in our geographical territory, which spans north Harris County and southern Montgomery County.
Center for Safe and Secure Schools:
From natural disasters to threats from intruders, schools increasingly need training in how to prepare and react to disasters. The Center is America’s first regionally focused operation that contractually networks with schools and other government resources to help educators keep children safe during times of crisis. We interface with school districts and emergency management organizations to help the greater community to have a comprehensive plan for disasters. In addition to leadership, the Center hosts workshops on Internet Safety, bullying, peer mediation and emergency preparedness. Experts present research-based information critical to school districts. Post Hurricane Rita, the Center partnered with the HCDE Technology division to offer Network Operating Center storage for school district computer servers in times of disaster. Their services are partially funded through ADR funds and county and state grants.
Virtual Education Portal:
In a classroom in Harris County, a student struggling with reading could be practicing vocabulary using software from the HCDE Virtual Education Portal. The portal is an education “super site” that provides access to valuable, cost-effective learning tools. Educators will access the portal after work to complete professional development courses to achieve a master’s degree. In all, a dozen portal partners introduce employees to education services on the information highway.
Education todayand in the future:
HCDE’s publicly elected Board of Trustees continually evaluates and assesses the needs of area school districts and the educational community. For more information about HCDE programs and services, access the Department’s Web site at www.hcde-texas.org .