FORT WORTH -- Polytechnic High School students often credit their principal, Gary Braudaway, for saving their school.
The east-side campus was on the verge of being closed by the state for poor academic performance when students made dramatic gains on tests to keep the school open. Students said Braudaway never let anyone give up hope that they would succeed.
"He's always motivating everyone to do our best," junior DeAndre Reed said. "It's because of him that our school is where we are today."
On Monday, Braudaway was surprised to learn he was one of 10 principals in the state to be a finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education awards. He received a check for $1,000 and a $2,000 check for the school. Finalists will be interviewed at the end of the month in Houston, where two winning principals, one elementary and one high school, will be selected. Each will receive $10,000, and their schools will each get $25,000.
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Poly had been rated academically unacceptable by the state from 2005 through 2008, and a fifth year with that rating would have meant being closed by the state, according to Texas Education Agency requirements.
Braudaway took over in 2006. Officials had often credited him for making tremendous strides.
Students and staff often worked before and after school and on weekends, with Braudaway leading the way. Last spring, students made double-digit increases in most areas of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests to be rated academically acceptable -- and save the school.
Monday, Braudaway was quick to give students and staff the credit for the campus' success.
"Making this a family high school is what pulled us out," he said. "I'm just the one that fought off the lions, tigers and bears of negativity."
He added that the hard work continues as they strive for the state's top rating, exemplary.
Community members nominate principals, teachers and school districts for the awards, and two panels of judges review the applications to select the finalists. H-E-B, a grocery company, began the awards in 2002.
Kaysone Souyavong, 16, said Braudaway is definitely the best principal in Texas. The junior said she had fallen behind in credits, missing classes often because of family issues.
"But he worked with me and got me into recovery classes, like in the summer, and never let me give up," she said, "and now I'm going to graduate on time and in the top 10 percent of my class. He pushes you to reach for your goals."
EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700