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Polytechnic High School principal is a finalist for statewide award

Posted Monday, Apr. 05, 2010

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.

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


Posted on Mon, Dec. 08, 2008

Fort Worth trustees planning in case of Polytechnic's closure


FORT WORTH — Sophomore Elvia Olmos doesn’t want to think about going to another school. At Polytechnic High School, the 16-year-old said, she has dedicated teachers who care and classmates she’s known since elementary school. "The teachers find the time to help us out and get to know what we’re going through in our lives and try to understand," she said. "If I had to go somewhere else, it would upset me. All my friends are here." But the future of the academically troubled east-side school hangs in limbo as Fort Worth district officials prepare to adopt a plan this week on what to do if the state closes it for good next year. Trustees plan to discuss options today and vote on a plan Tuesday night. The district must submit a plan to "repurpose" the school — essentially shutting it down and opening something new in its place — to the Texas Education Agency this month because Poly is in its fourth consecutive year of being rated academically unacceptable, the state’s lowest rating. It is one of six Texas schools in such a predicament. The state is required to close or place under alternative management any school rated academically unacceptable for five consecutive years. Superintendent Melody Johnson said the district hasn’t given up on Poly. Principal Gary Braudaway and his teachers have made significant progress in recent years, she said. "We believe in Poly, and we’re betting on those kids," Johnson said. Closing the school, a neighborhood icon, would be "depressing to the community," said Trustee Christene Moss, who has represented the area since 1990. "Poly has made a lot of gains, but it just hasn’t been enough," Moss said.

The struggle 

Poly senior Sandra Martinez said the public perception of her school is distorted. "It’s like any other school," she said. "They base the school on past years and 'because it’s on the east side, then it must be bad and dangerous.’ It’s really not any of those things." Poly opened in 1937 at 1300 Conner Ave. as a Works Progress Administration project. It was a larger home for the school, previously on Nashville Avenue. Through the decades, the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood suffered from crime and a steady decline in businesses. Home occupancy rates started dropping in the 1980s; by the 1990s, 1 in 4 homes was empty. City housing efforts have helped bring families back to the area, though there are still few businesses near the school. From the time the state began rating schools, in the mid-1990s, Poly alternated among the labels of low-performing, acceptable and academically unacceptable. The ratings system got tougher in 2004, when the required passing rates on standardized tests were raised. Tougher sanctions were put in place for schools rated academically unacceptable. Since then, Poly has not meet standards in math and other areas of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Last year, only a third of Poly students passed all portions of the TAKS, compared with 72 percent of students statewide.

Councilman Sal Espino was the 1986 valedictorian of the former magnet program at Poly. His two younger brothers were also valedictorian. Espino wants to know why more progress hasn’t been made at his alma mater. "If we lose that school, we’re losing a valuable asset in our community," he said. "How did we get to this point?  . . . Have we allocated enough resources there, and are we doing every thing that we need to do?" Moss doesn’t think so. "Sometimes central administration is not as proactive as it is reactive," she said. But Johnson said that since she arrived in 2005, she has ensured that all schools are treated equitably and have the tools they need to be successful. That was one focus of the 2007 bond upgrades for all campuses. "There is no lack of resources at that school," she said. "I have made sure to ask teachers and the principal what does Poly need that it doesn’t have." As to academic performance, Johnson said the issue is complex. Poly often has the students most in need, such as its large numbers of limited-English-speaking and special-education students. Johnson said efforts to improve the school haven’t had time to yield results. And, she said, many Poly students don’t feel support from their community.

About 600 students from the Poly area attend other Fort Worth high schools under the district’s open-enrollment policy, Johnson noted. Nearly 215 students who live outside the area transferred into Poly. "It is a stark contrast from, say, Dunbar students, who really feel strongly that the neighborhood really cares about them and their successes," she said. "Poly students don’t feel that way."

What’s next

If the state closes a school, the district can use the site for another school. That process is called repurposing. The school board meets at 5 p.m. today to discuss the plan. The board has scheduled a public comment period during a 5:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday; afterward, a vote is scheduled. Texas has closed only two schools because of poor performance on accountability ratings. Johnston High School in Austin and Sam Houston High School in Houston were closed this summer. "It sounds good to say you’re going to close bad schools," Johnson said. "But if you close the school and disperse the kids throughout the community, is that going to help the kids? That is my problem with this. No one knows if this will help." Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott must approve any plan. He said he wants to see that the district is charting a course for each student’s progress. Scott visited Poly in September and said he was impressed with administrators and teachers. "Every one of them is energized, and there were multiple people I talked to who were on campus each and every day doing everything they could to engage teachers and students to keep them energized as well," he said. Braudaway, who took over the school in 2006, has not returned recent messages seeking comment on Poly’s future. But early this fall, he pointed to student gains on raw test scores as evidence of improvement.

About 80 percent of Poly’s teachers were replaced this year under a pilot program aimed at placing the best teachers at struggling schools. Curriculum revisions in elementary and middle schools have boosted the performance of freshmen districtwide, including Poly, administrators said. The school has had no major fighting incidents, officials said. Martinez said she’s never seen so many students involved in pep rallies or other events that show school spirit as she has this year. "Everyone is all filled up [with spirit], and everyone wants to save our school and wants it to still be here," she said. 

Restructuring a school If Polytechnic High School is rated academically unacceptable next year, the state may close it or place it under alternative management. The school district can ask to use a closed campus for another purpose. But in that case, Texas law requires that the new school must:

    Have a new name.

    Replace at least 75 percent of its teachers.

    Move at least half of current students to new campuses.

    Remove the campus administrator.

    Provide a rigorous and relevant academic program.

        Source: Fort Worth school district


The school, built in 1937, is a neighborhood icon.

The school, built in 1937, is a neighborhood icon. 
 S-T/Bruce Maxwell

About Polytechnic High School The Georgian revival building was part of the 1930s Works Progress Administration construction program. With room for 1,700 students, it was considerably larger than the previous campus at 1201 Nashville Ave.

Campus facts (2007-08):

    1,017 students

    25.6 percent are limited-English speakers. Language center serves students from Poly and O.D. Wyatt attendance zones.

    78.5 percent are considered at risk of dropping out of school.

    70.4 percent qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches based on family income.

    10 percent are in special-education programs.

    7 percent are in gifted and talented programs.

    143 students graduated in 2007; the school had 395 freshmen in 2003-04.

        Source: Texas Education Agency, Tarrant County Historic Resources Survey


If you go Trustees are expected to discuss options for Polytechnic High School at 5 p.m. today and vote on a plan during their meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. A public comment period is scheduled Tuesday. The board meets at 2903 Shotts St. in Fort Worth.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700



What's the future of Fort Worth's Polytechnic High School?



 Fort Worth school district trustees meet at 5 p.m. tonight and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to decide what to do if the state closes Polytechnic High School in east Fort Worth next year. The historic high school is in big trouble because it has failed to meet state accountability standards for four years in a row. If Poly is branded "unacceptable" after its students take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills this spring, the state will require that the school be closed and that most of its teachers and half its students move elsewhere.

Read Star-Telegram writer Eva-Marie Ayala's story here.

Now, here's the rub: Fort Worth school leaders can quickly rename the campus and re-open it as early as next fall with a new mission. One reader today suggested that it become a college prep academy. And several of my friends this weekend noted how much they like nearby William James Middle School on Nasville Avenue.

So what's working at William James? That school has a "College Readiness Academy" to which any Fort Worth district student may apply. Through the academy, William James offer advanced English, science and math classes to sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students. About 350 of the school's 1,186 students are in the college prep program. Participating eighth-graders take Geometry; students who take two years of foreign language can end up with a high school language credit before they get off the middle school campus.

"If you walk into the school, you feel an atmosphere of learning," said Susan Bruster, the school's academic coordinator. "We all work hard to make sure these students succeed."

Could that kind of program work at Poly? I'd like to think so. 

Tell trustees what you think Tuesday.

- Kristin Sullivan  


December 08, 2008

Gender-based academies recommended by superintendent

Johnson and her staff recommend trustees adopt the gender-based academies model. She said it gives the district more time to explore how successful programs such as the New Tech and Project Lead the Way would be at the Poly campus. She also just said she will recommend the district limit the number of students per grade who can transfer out of a school. Currently, the district has an open enrollment policy for its high schools. About 600 students from the Poly area currently attend other schools in the district.

Staff said Fort Worth would be among the first in the nation to have a gender-based high school. Dallas has the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School, which currently serves grades sixth through 10th. It is expected to reach up to 12th grade next year. The girl-only school opened in 2004.

-Eva-Marie Ayala

Math and science need to improve

Trustee Chris Hatch just asked the million dollar question -- which option will improve math and science scores? He asked this after looking at the 2008 passing rates at Poly. The passing rate for African American students was below state standards in every test subject. It was particularly low in math (31 percent passed) and science (38 percent passed). Administrators said they expect the New Technology High School model to do so because it includes more hands-on, project-based learning that engages students.

-Eva-Marie Ayala

Gender-based academies option

This would have two schools at the Poly campus -- one for girls and one for boys. All students would have to opt to attend the ninth through 12th grade campus. It would allow the campus to have UIL activities and wouldn't impact other schools' enrollment as much. This would be the first campus in the nation to have two all gender schools in one location, administrators said. Officials would have to figure out how to keep the schools separate within the one building but still allow some interaction. Deputy superintendent Pat Linares said there is much debate on gender based schools out there. She said one report she just read noted that "we know that gender-based schools work. Can we pinpoint why? No." She said this option would give the district a year to decide on what exact programs to offer at the school, such as Project Lead the Way or New Technology High School.

Here and here are some info on gender-based schools.

-Eva-Marie Ayala

Why hasn't this been done for Poly before now?

Administrators were explaining that the New Technology High School option would allow for partnerships with the business community and nearby Texas Wesleyan University. But trustee Jean McClung interrupted saying that could have been done at Poly now. "We could have had all these things ... We didn't we have it," she said.
That lead to trustee Carlos Vasquez venting his frustration for how much Poly hasn't had over the years--namely the most qualified teachers. Vasquez, who was a principal at McRae Elementary in the Poly area for five years, said he didn't want his students attending the high school and added that the district has waited too long to address Poly's needs. "If we're having problems there, then we brought it on ourselves," he said. Superintendent Melody Johnson reminded trustees that every teacher at Poly had to apply to be there this year under a new pilot program and want to be there. She asked trustees to focus tonight's conversation on what to do for Poly's future and not what has happened.

-Eva-Marie Ayala

New Technology High option

Moss Three scenarios are outlined in Option 1, which center around the New Technology High. It would allow current juniors to finish their senior high year at the campus and would open the school to new freshman. But sophomores and juniors would attend other campuses, including Western Hills High School located about 12 miles away. Under one scenario, those students would attend Trimble Tech causing the district to close that campus to incoming ninth-graders for a year. The following years would add a grade to the campus until it is back to a senior level.

Vice president Christene Moss wants to know what the track record is for the New Technology High School program and who uses it. Staff said some Texas schools recently started using the program including Coppell and Austin and do not have any testing data to show results. Superintendent Melody Johnson said Sacramento has used the program but test results there don't seem to have improved as significantly because those students started even further behind Poly students.

The school would not have any UIL activities under this option, such as sports.

(Pictured at left is Moss asking questions about the plans. Photo by Bud Kennedy.)

-Eva-Marie Ayala

Options for Poly being discussed now

Trustees just began discussing options on what to do in case Poly closes. Among the four options about to be discussed are creating gender-based academies and closing Trimble Tech to all ninth grade students. Under three of the option, Poly would keep freshmen and seniors but sophomores and juniors would go to other schools. If the state closed Poly, the school could become a New Technology High School with a communication academy and offering Project Lead the Way courses, which focus on engineering and biomedical sciences. The board recently approved expanding Project Lead the Way courses for the district.

-Eva-Marie Ayala

Poly student Luis Ubanda tells trustees Tuesday how important the school is to him. 
Poly student Luis Ubanda tells trustees Tuesday how important the school is to him. 

Date this page was last edited: 04/06/2010

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