Cedar Hill ISD’s Hilltop Academy Accelerates At-Risk Graduates

Hilltop Academy Principal Keith Petty and staff have done for credit recovery in 2022-2023 what Richard Petty and his pit crew did for stock car racing in the 20th Century.

Hilltop Academy, a pilot program this year held at the JoLynn Maddox Teaching & Learning Center, has resulted in 27 scholars who will be graduating from Cedar Hill ISD on Saturday, June 3. It’s possible there may be a handful more graduates.

The late, great Cedar Hill High School Principal Shay Whittaker – Petty’s former boss at CHHS – came up with the idea and brought it to CHISD Superintendent Dr. Gerald Hudson, who approved it.

“Shay noticed the halls had several scholars who were too old for high school and too far behind in credits,” Petty said.

Some scholars’ lack of focus on classes resulted in discipline issues. Whittaker believed it would be better for these scholars to get on a track to graduation.

Petty was hired as Hilltop Principal last spring after more than 15 years as an Associate Principal at CHHS.

“Once the scholars saw the light at the end of the tunnel, there was a significant change in their approach to graduating,” Petty said. “The kids are sometimes pessimistic at first, not believing that there’s a path to graduation. But we convince them that the path exists.”

Scholars entered Hilltop Academy for a variety of reasons, including discipline, distractions and issues related to the COVID-19 Pandemic or any number of life circumstances. They are placed on a self-guided online curriculum where they can complete courses quickly.

Once at the campus, scholars worked directly with Hilltop Counselor Cicely-Ham Shepard and Hilltop Teachers Sandra Magee and Sheryl Moore.

Magee joined the Hilltop staff after teaching Advanced Placement (AP) scholars at CHHS.

My main mission is to help any child of color in life and to ensure they’re not a dropout statistic,” Magee said. “Within two weeks, I made the class family-oriented. Once the scholars realized they could get through high school quicker, they took it seriously.”

Some scholars who began the year as academic sophomores are now graduating on time. The staff posts their course completion certificates in the program’s hallways.

“That was important, so they could see their own progress,” Magee said.

Many of the scholars have created pathways to success, such as Career & Technical Education (CTE) certifications and plans to enlist in the military. At least one Hilltop scholar plans to study Special Education in college.