By Alton Porter
The executives and staff at the Serenity Place, Inc., Crockett campus are making several changes in their programs for the boys at the facility, the most significant of which is replacement of the former educational program with a charter school.
The leaders of the residential treatment facility for abused and neglected boys will open a branch of the John H. Wood Jr. Charter School Monday, Aug. 21, according to owner and program director Chris Brown and school principal Miki Jost.
"We've been in operation little over a year, and we're 'stronger than ever' (a current theme of the facility), Brown said in a joint interview with Jost, conducted by the Courier on Friday, Aug. 4.
Jost has been on campus making preparations for the school all summer.
"I can't tell you how excited I am," said Brown. "Going forward this year is totally different than last year. Last year, we were just opening, the kids were just coming in, staff was new."He added, "The biggest difference we have going forward today is we have our own school (headed by Superintendent Bruce Rockstroh)."
Jost, who served on the Crockett State School staff under the auspices of the Texas Youth Commission five years until that facility closed in 2012, has intimate knowledge of the facility, Brown said.
He said the facility's John H. Wood school has seven teachers who will teach some 80 boys who are expected to be residents at the facility by Sept. 1.
"Last year, we had Crockett ISD," Brown said. "But, John H. Wood has experience and understanding of mental health. So, I think they're very equipped to deal with our kids."
Jost added, "The other wonderful thing about John H. Wood is it's a public charter school. So, if there are people who are outside the gate and want to come to our school, they're welcome to do so.
"We are an inquiry-based curriculum where we will basically let the students have their TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that they need individually and know what they need to work toward. And then, we're going to allow them to determine some of the direction they're going to use to reach those goals.
"And we're going to help them toward their high school diploma or their GED (General Education Development) certificate."
The students will be taught traditional topics using high technology equipment. "In addition, we're going to have vocational programs, including classes instructed by former Crockett State School automotive specialist Franklin Wade that focus on agriculture, other CTE (career and technical education) classes and eventually automobile maintenance and repair skills," Jost said.
"We want to have the students excited about learning. We'll have nice size classes of between 12 and 15 students each. We want to help them find success.
"We have a wonderful group of teachers coming in." And school leaders have approached Angelina College officials about working out a partnership with the college.
To give the boys the opportunity to interact in the community, they will perform tasks at the upcoming World Championship Fiddler's Festival, and events at the Crockett Civic Center and Christmas in Crockett festival among other events.
Other recent additions at Serenity Place include an equine therapy program headed up by rancher Dexter Strange of Madisonville, with Carla Pratt Jenkins as equine-certified therapist, Brown said. "We have seven horses. To see kids coming from all over Texas (be excited about the program is refreshing).
Something else new for Serenity Place is an "advisory board that is helping us connect with people in the community in a different way than when we first came to Crockett," Brown said.
Members of the board are Pastor Darryl Bennett of Eastgate Family Church; Jeannie Julian, executive director, Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce; Toni Browning, manager, Houston County Courier; Houston County Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt; James Gentry, executive director, Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation; Ramona Frye, director, Angelina College Crockett Center; and Retired Houston County Judge Erin Ford.
New staff members who are enhancing the Serenity Place, Inc., staff include administrator Cathy Wells from San Antonio, who has 16 years of experience managing residential treatment centers; new clinical director, Gina Burnley from Houston, who has experience running treatment programs at other facilities; and Karen Johnson, who has 19 years of experience and will handle staff supervision activities and help manage the campus.
Brown explained, "We've brought in more tenured and experienced people. I think that'll make a big difference in our ability to not only manage kids, but also, grow. As we go forward, I think our new administrative team is going to work very well together.
He said Serenity Place, Inc. also is hoping to hire someone to provide medical services to the boys at the facility's on-campus infirmary.