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Elementary and Primary Education
Teacher of the Year Finalist: Veteran Teacher JoAnna Lee Shares Knowledge, Passion for At-Risk Students
Press Release
Thursday, May 10, 2018

May 10, 2018 - Highpoint East English teacher JoAnna Lee goes beyond developing her students’ love of literature and writing. As a veteran teacher in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) setting, Lee is passionate about helping a population of students that often falls between the cracks in the general education system.  

Highpoint is a campus for troubled youth in grades 6-12 that offers a safe and highly-structured learning environment, with a low, 15-to-1 student to teacher ratio.  Students come to Highpoint on a contract basis through their home school district with the goal of returning to and graduating from their home-district high school.  

While teaching special education in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Lee became familiar with Harris County Department of Education’s Highpoint School East. Three years ago, Lee sought out a job teaching at Highpoint East to work exclusively with adjudicated or expelled youth.

Effective and supportive teachers are a critical factor contributing to student achievement, but DAEP campuses often have high teacher turnover. Lee has made it her goal to work with teachers in this setting and share her experience and passion for teaching at-risk students. She also hopes to help at-risk populations understand the importance of graduating and pass on her love for reading and writing.    

“Most at-risk students have experienced some type of trauma, abuse or neglect by loved ones,” said Lee. “They need educators who are proficient and compassionate to meet their educational needs and break the shell of their defiant behavior.”  

For Lee, this involves differentiating English lessons to meet the differences in abilities, interests and learning styles of her students. She uses the Love and Logic approach to encourage her students to own and solve their problems, an important skill in the real world. She also works to gain their trust and help them realize the importance of education for their future.   

Moving forward, Lee hopes to share the knowledge she’s gained from her 10-year teaching career with a new generation of teachers by becoming a college professor for pre-service educators. She is currently working on her doctorate in ethical leadership.  

“Above all else, JoAnna possesses a passion for teaching,” says Highpoint East Principal Marion Cooksey. “I’ve witnessed her growth as a leader as she consistently shares her knowledge and experience with her peers.”  

Lee serves on the Campus Improvement Committee at Highpoint East and mentors teachers new to the DAEP setting. The goal is to ensure that each student is successful while being served by HCDE.  

“Every person has the right to an education,” says Lee. “Our schools serve the community by ensuring each student, no matter their past behavior or mistakes, can learn and grow.” 

About Harris County Department of Education:  HCDE provides special education, therapy services, early education, adult education and after-school programming. Services are funded by government grants, fees and a local property tax rate of $.005195. For every dollar in local property tax collected, HCDE provides $4.40 in services to the 25 Harris County school districts. HCDE also operates four campuses for students with profound special education needs and adjudicated youth who require a low student-teacher ratio and highly structured environment. One-hundred percent of students served on HCDE campuses are at-risk. The organization is governed by an elected board of seven trustees and has 1,060 employees and 33 facilities, including 15 Head Start centers. More info at

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