August 3, 2023 by HCDE Communications
For 20 years, Cordegus Monette has been educating and supporting students in alternative learning environments to help them forge a path for their futures. As the transition specialist at Harris County Department of Education’s Academic and Behavior School West, Monette believes part of his job is to show students the possibilities the future holds for them. He does this by demonstrating he believes in them so they can believe in themselves.
“Others may view our students as bad kids, but I see it as an opportunity to teach,” said Monette. “Sometimes getting in trouble opens doors to opportunities. That’s what a good educator does: show students the possibilities and let them know they are valuable.”
Monette is HCDE’s August Employee of the Month. For him, part of his job as an educator is about paying forward the support he received as a young student from coaches and teachers when he was growing up in Dallas.
“I come from an environment that was difficult to navigate, but I had educators that were pillars for me,” Monette said. “I felt it was my duty to come back to work with youth from marginalized communities.”
Monette pursued football in high school and after graduating from Carter High School, whose football team was made famous in the movie “Friday Night Lights,” he attended Lane College in Tennessee on a football scholarship to study biology. After graduation, he returned to Dallas, accepting a job as a sports coach and teacher at an alternative high school.
“I saw myself in my students. Mentoring and working with students was fulfilling because someone did that for me,” Monette said. “I was from that community and still living there, so I also knew some of their relatives. I could speak to them in a way that maybe somebody who was an outsider could not.”
Monette quickly found comfort in instilling hope and confidence in his students. Shortly into his first year at the school, he decided to obtain an alternative teaching certificate. The following year he moved to Houston, attended a local job fair, and ultimately landed a job as a special education science teacher at ABS West. Monette said he has never looked back.
“HCDE embraces caring, healing, teaching, and learning, not just for students but also for their families,” he said. “It’s a whole different approach to dealing with kids.”
Former ABS West Principal Victor Keys, who nominated Monette for the recognition before he retired, said Monette is part of the fabric of the school and is critical to its success. Incoming Principal Jatata Hutton agreed, saying Monette is considered a pillar of the ABS West family.
“He’s very instrumental in the operation of that school. You see him helping out in the kitchen, the developmental lab, and the playground. If a teacher is out sick and doesn’t show up, you see him in the classroom with the kids,” Keys said. “No one has to tell him. He takes the initiative. That’s what makes him a great leader.”
But staff and parents don’t expect Monette to discuss how his work supports every facet of the school. He is best known for his reserved humility and ability to earn students’ trust.
“He’s quietly working in the background with kids individually. He’s mentoring them. He’s been their dad, uncle, and confidant,” said Keys. “Not only does he root for them, but he also tells them what they must do to succeed. When they’re successful, he rewards that behavior. I’ve seen him go out and buy brand-new shoes, pants, and shirts for those kids. But he’s not going to make a big display of it.”
This leadership mentality has also earned Monette appreciation from colleagues and community members.
“Everybody at this school respects Mr. Monette—everybody,” emphasized Keys. “He’s the ultimate team player and professional. His word is his bond, and he will always give you 125%. If he is not at work, something is wrong. That’s just how dedicated he is. It was an honor to work with him.”
To learn more about HCDE Schools, visit hcde-texas.org/special-schools.