The Sunday before the start of HISD’s school year, about 50 families came out to Highland Heights Elementary in Acres Homes for a celebratory back to school barbecue. Principal Geraldine Cox, who was hired in 2015 to head the school, plans to continue the momentum for the coming school year.
It’s a fresh start of sorts for Highland Heights which recently received a waiver from the Texas Education Association to get a pause on accountability because of the impact of Hurricane Harvey on its families. During the last school year, the board debated options for HISD’s improvement required, or IR, schools, ranging from partnerships to a close and restart option. None of those options were utilized for the schools, some of which came out of IR this year.
Cox has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from North Carolina A&T State University, and according to an HISD News Blog came to HISD with a 30 year track record of achievement in the educational arena across multiple settings. Previous to her role at Highland Heights she worked in Illinois as a chief turnaround officer and successfully led two elementary schools in Greensboro, North Carolina. Under her leadership, each campus was recognized as a Most Improved School in Guilford County.
Cox said that she came to Highland Heights Elementary because she wanted to work where she could make a difference with students and their families.
“I wanted to help grow teachers who support young people who have varied needs,” Cox said. “I have a great love and passion for teaching and learning. My greatest love is giving back to my community through the teaching of our children.”
Highland Heights is a school where in 2017, 87 percent of the students were classified by the district as economically disadvantaged and 73 percent were classified at risk.
Cox said that her school provides stability for children and their parents.
“We work with every child where they are and attempt to grow them as much as possible,” she said. “This school is identifying the needs of children from the academics to the social and emotional needs. We have been fortunate in being able to provide much needed support for the total child and families with the help of the district, including free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as community referrals for health needs and services.
One of the ways that the district serves the school – and other HISD schools which are part of its Achieve 180 and Superintendent School initiative – is by the employment of a wrap-around specialist. Highland Heights is fortunate to have the very energetic Kirkland Hall, who also is the football coach at Booker T. Washington High School this year.
Hall said he applied specifically to be the wraparound specialist at Highland Heights because he volunteered at the school with an organization called Loving Kids.
“I felt I could be a positive addition to the staff by bringing knowledge, compassionate confrontation, and enthusiastic energy to the work,” said Hall. “Last year I was most proud of the establishing of relationships with the children. I started the wraparound position mid-year so I had to work quickly and strategically to properly meet all of the students and develop the trust and confidence with them.”
This year, Kirkland wants to bridge the gap between the school and the community.
“I’ll be working toward increasing parental involvement by partnering with the parents and also I’ll be connecting students to the appropriate resources to fit their non-academic needs to equip the whole child,” he said. “The result of these goals should be academic success.”
Principal Cox is looking for volunteers who are willing to come be breakfast helpers, lunch buddies, reading buddies, and classroom helpers.
“We would love to have someone sponsor and help support our PBIS store where children receive small prizes for performing well, good manners, [and] respectful behavior,” Cox said. “We would [also] like male mentors to support our young boys and volunteers for our College and Career day presentations.”
If you can heed the call to support Highland Heights this year, please e-mail Principal Geraldine Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or wraparound specialist Kirkland Hall at Kirkland.Hall@houstonisd.org.