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You’ve seen the old movies. The hands of the clock move slowly toward the appointed time. The warden eyes the phone – will there be a last-minute stay of execution from the governor? Meanwhile, the prisoner’s supporters are racing toward the governor’s office with evidence that test scores are improving and morale is up.

OK, that last part veers away from the traditional script, admittedly. But the drama is pretty real at Fort Worth’s historic Polytechnic High School, where students, alumni, faculty, and parents are sweating out a potential “death penalty.” Under state law, if the Poly kids’ passing rates on each of the state’s academic achievement tests don’t measure up this year, the school will be listed as “academically unacceptable” for the fifth year in a row. That in turn would trigger state sanctions that could force the school to be shut down or repurposed. Fort Worth school administrators said last week (“Solving the Poly Puzzle,” March 4, 2009) that the law gives the education commissioner little leeway.

But “little” apparently isn’t the same as “no” leeway. Turns out there might be just enough to give Poly another year’s grace period, even if the students don’t make it to the mark in 2009.

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In an e-mail sent too late for last week’s print story, Debbie Ratcliffe, director of communications for the State Board of Education, wrote that while the law indeed is inflexible regarding the closing or restructuring of a school that fails the test five years in a row, the commissioner does have the power to delay those sanctions for a limited period.

“Sometimes when a school has been making progress but it’s not quite enough to reach the acceptable level, the commissioner has assigned alternative management and then essentially stayed that sanction for a year to give the school one more year to improve,” Ratcliffe wrote. “During that year, the school still has to complete a lot of required improvement activities.”

And Poly has made impressive progress recently. Overall test scores at the 72-year-old school have risen by 20 percent since 2003, with the most improvement shown during the last two-and-a-half years of Principal Gary Braudaway’s tenure.

School supporters are rooting for the kids to make it on their own in 2009. But if not, there’ll be plenty of petitions to the commissioner, no doubt, to please consider clemency.

… And Correcting Another

Speaking of last week’s cover story on Poly, long-time activist and mentor-to-kids Eddie Griffin was given a title he no longer holds. Griffin is a former, not current, Trimble Tech High School PTA president. Fort Worth Weekly regrets the error and will stay after school to write on the chalkboard 100 times (as Bart Simpson once did): “I will not do anything bad ever again.”

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