HCDE’s Special Schools Push the Needle on Education Excellence with New Programs, Facilities

Students attend the first day of classes in Harris County Department of Education's Special Schools on August 28, 2023.

Monday, August 28, was a day of smiles and cheer at HCDE’s four special school campuses as staff welcomed students back to the new year. As learners from districts across Harris County arrived at ABS East and West, Fortis Academy, and Highpoint School, teachers and school leaders met them with smiles and welcoming words of encouragement.

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This year, Harris County Department of Education’s schools are offering new programs and resources to students and their families, including dual-credit courses, substance abuse support, and upgraded facilities.  

“We are constantly working to meet the academic and behavioral needs of students whom we serve both in and out of Harris County,” said Schools Division Senior Director Dr. Charles Ned. “Our goal is to foster environments where even the most challenging student realizes their success, and parents are partners in implementing strategies to manage student behaviors both on campus and at home.”

On Monday, ABS East welcomed nearly 100 students to the new $12.6 million campus equipped with a sensory room to decompress in a stress-free environment that fosters fun, creativity, and self-awareness. Students can also take advantage of an inclusive and sensory-rich playground at recess, which features a zipline and special structures that allow non-ambulatory students to participate in outdoor play.

“This is a chance for faculty and students to grow and prosper,” said Assistant Principal Timothy Mullican. “I’ve loved seeing our students light up when they walk in, and I’m excited to watch them enjoy everything we can offer them.”

Down the 610 loop at ABS West, the campus has a new leader in Principal Jatata Hutton. This year, Hutton is striving for excellence as he continues to build on the foundation laid by former ABS West Principal Dr. Victor Keys. The pair collaborated throughout the summer to ensure a smooth transition for teachers and students, which proved successful as students entered a vibrant atmosphere on the first day of classes.

Known as HCDE’s home for second chances, Highpoint School saw more than 60 students arrive on the first day. This year, the school will offer the first substance abuse program led by Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor Jon-Erik Price. The program will discuss the stages of addiction and provide recovery resources to students and their families.  

“We work hard to create a supportive, nurturing, and restorative campus,” Highpoint Principal Courtney Waters said as she welcomed students. “My mantra is simple: past mistakes do not define our future. This program will help ensure every student who enters our building leaves with the knowledge to do better and be better.”

At Fortis Academy, leaders stepped back into the 80s, donning their 2023 Convocation attire to welcome students facing challenges with alcohol and substance abuse. With a new contract from Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and additional seats requested by Aldine ISD, first-day enrollment is triple last year’s numbers.

Principal Travita Godfrey expressed excitement about several new initiatives, including nursing assistance training and educational instruction practices through a partnership with HCDE’s Schools.  In collaboration with San Jacinto Community College, Fortis will also offer its first dual-credit speech course for 9-12thgrade scholars.

“Our students will now have the confidence and motivation to attend college or a vocational school because they will have already been doing so,” Godfrey smiled. “With the dual-credit course, Fortis students will be considered a student at SanJac, which means they just need to enroll in classes full-time after graduation. We are helping them knock down that first hurdle.”

As students settle into their new classrooms and prepare for a year of instruction, the new programs launched by HCDE’s Special Schools continue to fulfill the division’s mission.

“Students and families come to HCDE because we are the experts in this field,” ABS East Assistant Principal Timothy Mullican said. “Traditional campuses cannot provide this level of commitment. Without us, our students would be lost.”

To learn more about HCDE Schools, visit hcde-texas.org/special-schools.

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