New School to meet increased demands to serve students with behavioral disorders, autism

Harris County Department of Education Officials and community members at the groundbreaking of new Behavior School.
Harris County Department of Education Officials and community members at the groundbreaking of new Behavior School.

HOUSTON, TX – April 5, 2019 – Harris County Department of Education kicked off construction on a new, 47,970-square-foot school to replace Academic and Behavior School West at a ceremonial groundbreaking April 3 at 12772 Medfield Drive in southwest Houston. County and city officials, school district leaders, staff and students attended the event backdropped by a bulldozer, shovels and hardhats.

HCDE Superintendent James Colbert said the new school is needed to provide additional opportunities for students who need specialized education services in the districts HCDE serves. Students attending AB West are challenged with behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorder and other significant physical and emotional needs.

The new school, which will serve up to 150 students ages 5-22 with intellectual, developmental and behavioral needs, borders Dairy Ashford Road and Westpark Tollway.

“With the addition of our new school, we will have the best education facility to educate students who are autistic and emotionally disturbed from local school districts in greater Harris County,” said Victor Keys, principal at AB School West.

HCDE operates four special schools in Harris County which serve children from area school districts on a contractual basis. AB West and East educate children with intellectual and emotional disabilities while two other schools provide services for recovering, adjudicated or troubled teens. The goal is for students to return to their home districts and schools, with newly learned behavior tools to successfully continue their education and graduate.

“I’m really looking forward to giving these students a great facility,” said HCDE Board of Trustees President Josh Flynn, who introduced guests and gave opening remarks at the groundbreaking. “We will be placing students in this special, unique environment where they feel safe.”

The replacement school for AB West provides considerable support for students from Alief Independent School District, where it resides.

“I’m grateful for the taxpayers of Harris County, the Board, Superintendent James Colbert and HCDE staff for realizing these students need a voice,” said H.D. Chambers, Alief Independent School District superintendent. “If there is a flagship behavior for any kids coming out of AB School West, it’s the air of confidence that they probably didn’t have before.”

Features of the school include a low, student-toinstructor ratio, small classes and individualized learning. A behavior specialist provides support to students to help change or improve behaviors.

The school designed by Houston architectural firm Cre8 Architects will have a heightened security system with ballistic-rated, glass walls in the lobby and restricted passage to classroom areas.

“Our board has been sensitive to school security, so we have fortified this campus externally and internally with added layers of protection inside to ensure safety,” said Colbert.

AB School West, designed by Houston architectural firm Cre8, will be elevated above the flood plain, and an emergency generator will help to serve highly impaired students in bad weather. Layout of the school provides for 28 classrooms; use of sensory-sensitive color palettes for walls; rounded-corners throughout the school’s interior construction to prevent student injury; and a domestic lab for life-skills students. Outdoors there is a gated outdoor walking trail, courtyard and basketball court.

Student Deven Wright, a fourth grader who attends AB School West from Fort Bend Independent School District, said he has high hopes for the new library and computer lab.

“I will be happy to attend this new school,” the 10-year-old said.

AB West is scheduled to be completed in early 2020. A special opening ceremony, complete with tours, is planned before the school opens.