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Excellence in teaching within the state prison system was recognized by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, with honors going to eight outstanding correctional educators from the Windham School District (WSD) during the Board's Oct. 7 meeting in Austin. The four finalists in the 2008-09 WSD "Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching" initiative were nominated by their peers and selected through a rigorous screening process. The Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching Award is named for Dr. Lane Murray, pioneer superintendent of the Windham School District, which was created in 1969.
As employees of WSD, these educators teach vocational, academic or behavioral management classes to eligible offenders within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). WSD employs more than 800 certified teachers at 90 prison and state jail sites.
"It is my privilege to recognize the WSD 'Excellence in Teaching' finalists as consummate educators and professionals," said Oliver Bell, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. "Their perseverance, enthusiasm, and high degree of skill have been recognized by their peers, all the while changing the lives of offenders in their classrooms."
Award winner Clem Rocha works with offenders at the Dominguez State Jail in San Antonio, teaching Technical Introduction to Computer-Aided Drafting. He is a 14-year veteran in correctional education.
"Drafting and design is my passion, and as a draftsman, my passion is to make the impossible, possible," he said. "I want my students to feel the empowerment that goes along with hard work and dedication. I want them to go forward and share with their loved ones the possibilities of success in education - and in life - and break the cycle of life in prison."
The other finalists and their nominating units are: Special Education and Computer-Assisted Academic Instruction teacher Rosie Shepherd of the Huntsville Unit (Huntsville); literacy instructor Opal Rabalais of the Plane State Jail (Dayton); and Terry Ferguson, who teaches literacy and pre-release classes at the Havins Unit (Brownwood).
"Correctional educators work with a challenging group of students in a restricted environment; however, these teachers prove the potential for success is limitless," Board Chairman Bell said. "As WSD celebrates its 40-year anniversary, the Board proudly recognizes the accomplishments of these teachers. They embody the exceptional qualities of Windham educators found in every region of the state."
Members of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice serve as trustees for the WSD.
The Tyler Area Community Partnership Council sponsored an appreciation banquet for the Tyler District Parole Office staff in October.
TACPC President John Sims thanked the staff and reminded them of the TACPC mission: to provide a forum where public officials and private citizens share concerns, develop cooperative strategies for change and provide members of the public an opportunity to positively impact community safety and offender success. The TACPC also sponsored a job fair for offenders at Tyler Junior College.
State Rep. Leo Burman of Tyler expressed his appreciation to parole staff for fulfilling their duties by providing public safety and assisting offenders during their reentry into society. Later, Regional Director Ivy Anderson-York presented employee recognition awards to several Tyler DPO staff members.
The Houston 4 Parole Office, meanwhile, held its first annual Thanksgiving Day International Cook Off.
Unit supervisors Reginald Wilson and Jovan Means prepared their best curried chicken recipe, and international side dishes were offered up by the office staff.
The dishes were judged based on creativity, food appearance, table arrangement and consumer appeal. Each participant was commended for showmanship and thanked for bringing the sharing spirit of Thanksgiving to the Houston 4 Parole Office.