Windham principal coaches offenders to
succeed in classroom
Growing up in the West Texas town of Floydada where he started at quarterback for the high school football team and excelled in several other sports, Mike Vickers wanted nothing more than to coach. And that’s just what he’s doing thirty years later, although his players aren’t adolescents adorned in signature school colors. They’re adult offenders wearing plain white.
|Windham School District Principal Mike Vickers says what he thought would be a temporary job teaching became a full-time passion.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“Coaching is teaching,” said Vickers, who presides as principal for the Windham School District at TDCJ’s Terrell, Ramsey II, and Young prison units. “You show me a successful coach and I’ll show you a successful teacher.”
Indeed, Vickers has proven to be a successful coach and teacher. He’s not won a state championship or Teacher of the Year award, but he has consistently made a difference in the lives of his pupils. That’s been his reward.
“Individual goals aren’t important to me,” Vickers said. “Team goals are what drives me. And to succeed on the football field or in the classroom, you’ve got to sell your program. You’ve got to get people to buy into what you’re doing. The teacher has got to be able to pull people in.”
Vickers, 49, actually came to Windham in January 1989 when a promised coaching job in El Campo fell through at the last minute. Unexpectedly out of work in an unfamiliar place, the longtime public school teacher and athletics coach learned of TDCJ through a woman whose husband then worked for Windham at what was then named the Retrieve Unit in Angleton.
“I knew nothing of TDCJ,” he admitted. “In West Texas, we thought that Huntsville was the only place that had prisons.”
After applying for a teaching job, he was hired sight unseen over the phone by the principal at what is now the Terrell Unit in Rosharon, a woman who would become a mentor to Vickers.
“She said, ‘I heard if I didn’t hire you, someone else was going to get you real quick,’” Vickers recalls.
Vickers, who has a master’s degree in education from Sul Ross University in Alpine, started out with Windham teaching reading, writing and mathematics to offenders studying for their general equivalency diploma. He didn’t expect to sit at the head of the class for long.
“To be honest, I came here expecting it to be a temporary job,” he said. “I felt like a fish out of water. But it didn’t take long to realize that I was working with some great people. The more I stayed, the more it became a passion for me.”
Vickers’ passion for his new teammates and players earned him a principal’s job at the former Retrieve Unit in May 1990. He moved to the Clemens Unit in Brazoria in September 1991 and to the Ramsey I Unit in Rosharon two years later. In September 2000, he was named principal at the Terrell Unit and is now responsible for the academic and vocational instruction offered to some 600 offenders at the three units he oversees.
“It’s my employees and their commitment to making a difference in the lives of these offenders that’s so special about this job,” he said. “It starts with the students because that’s what we’re here for. But you’ve got to surround yourself with some committed individuals who want to make a difference. I’m passionate about their enthusiasm.”
As a high school senior, Vickers directed the second-ranked Floydada football team to a 9-1 record only to end up on the losing side of a coin flipped to break a three-way tie for the district title.
“We were real close,” he said. “It was tough, but you learn from those things.”
Coincidentally, Vickers and his staff came real close to winning exemplary school status from Windham two years ago. It’s a title the former football player and coach wants his team to win before he gets out of the game.
“There are goals we’ve not reached yet,” he said. “One of them would be an exemplary school status. You could compare that to winning a state championship. We’ve come close, but we’ve not reached that point yet. But I’m at the level now that I can make the greatest difference. And as long as I feel like I’m making a difference, I’m going to stay.”
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