Magee Gives Scholars A Second Chance at Hilltop Academy

Sandera Magee

(CEDAR HILL, TEXAS) Sandera Magee is proud to continue an initiative that the late, great Shay Whittaker helped start two years ago.

Whittaker and Cedar Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Gerald Hudson came up with the idea for Hilltop Academy, located at the JoLynn Maddox Teaching & Learning Center.

There were three reasons – to lessen disciplinary issues at Cedar Hill High School, to provide scholars behind on credits with the opportunity for a fresh start, and to lower the dropout rate.

Since last year, there have been 49 graduates of Hilltop Academy – and that number continues to grow.

Whittaker passed away after a courageous battle with cancer last April, but her legacy continues.

“It was a very good vision, and this was an opportunity to do it,” said Magee, the 2023-2024 STRIVE/Hilltop Teacher of the Year.

Magee, who has more than 40 years of teaching experience, arrived at Cedar Hill High School in 2015 to teach English. She also added journalism, yearbook, student activities department chair, teacher mentor, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) sponsor, and campus leadership team to her portfolio.

Longtime CHHS Associate Principal William Petty was hired to head the new Hilltop Academy and made it clear that he wanted Magee as part of the inaugural staff.

In the summer of 2022, Magee made the transition from CHHS to Hilltop. This is her third campus Teacher of the Year honor. The first came in Dallas ISD, and the second was in her first year at CHHS, 2015-2016.

“This one means more because I’m in my purpose now – I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Magee said. “No matter the mistakes these scholars have made, it does not define their future. They have the opportunity to take charge of their future and move forward.”

Magee is often the first teacher that scholars meet when they arrive at Hilltop. She starts by helping them gain a new perspective on their educational experience.

“We talk about life, choices, and decisions they’ve made,” Magee said. “We talk about goals and the steps they need to take to reach those goals.”

Magee was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and grew up in Dallas, graduating from Wilmer Hutchins High School.

She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian School Education from Dallas Baptist University and decided to return to her alma mater.

“I graduated from college and stepped right into the classroom,” Magee said. “My goal was to go back to Wilmer Hutchins and give four years. I was there for 17 years.”

She worked for Wilmer Hutchins ISD, and then Dallas ISD when WHISD became part of it.

She taught some of her current and former CHISD colleagues, including former Longhorns head football coach Carlos Lynn.

Magee worked as an administrator at Texas College, a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Tyler, but she decided to return to the Metroplex to take care of her mother.

On the way to a job interview in Fort Worth, she received a phone call from then-CHHS Principal Dr. Corey Seymour, who asked her to stop by CHHS on her way to Tarrant County.

She met Seymour at 1 Longhorn Boulevard and never looked back.

“I was looking for a district that was big enough to meet the needs of the community and small enough to where people know each other,” Magee said.

Magee has a Master’s Degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and she is an Associate Minister at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.

She oversees the teacher leadership certification at Friendship West.

At Hilltop, Magee is able to share her values while impacting the scholars.

“I don’t actually have to talk Jesus Christ to any of them, but they experience grace all of the time,” Magee said. “Because they know what grace feels like…they know that I’m on their side and will do whatever I can to help them graduate.”


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