A servant’s heart is at the core of LHISD’s success
By SHELLY WILKISON
When asked how many years ago she was eligible to retire, Claudeane Braun took out her pencil and did some old fashioned arithmetic.
A quick glance and that contagious smile said it all. She wasn’t going to say and it just didn’t matter.
At age 70, Braun is retiring in June from Liberty Hill ISD after a life-long career in public education. With a passion for teaching and learning, fueled by a competitive edge and hometown pride, Braun’s quest to make Liberty Hill the best school district in Texas has had an untold impact on thousands of students and teachers through the years.
As LHISD Curriculum Director, her mission has been to do whatever it takes to give students what they need to be successful in life, and she does it by working closely with teachers and administrators to help them be the best they can be.
Although most of her 44-year career in Texas public schools has been in administration, Braun said she never planned it that way. Her heart was in the elementary classroom.
“I believe my calling was to work with kids, but the Lord saw it another way,” she said.
Earlier in her career, she taught first, third and fourth grades.
She grew up in Bertram, so when her husband, Charlie Braun, was offered the opportunity to serve as Liberty Hill’s athletic director in 1978, she went to work teaching fourth grade. At the time, she was one of only two fourth grade teachers in Liberty Hill and all grades were contained in the building where she know works.
She said she fell in love with the community that year when she saw people come together to build six classrooms onto a new elementary school, and make improvements to the football stadium. Braun said voters had passed a bond, but the new school wasn’t large enough to handle its students. She said construction experts in the community volunteered labor and materials to build the classrooms, then later built a new playground.
“From that time on, we were just in love with Liberty Hill,” she said.
The Brauns moved to Gonzales in 1990 and stayed five years. While there, her students did noticeably well on standardized tests and she began helping other teachers look at data and do instructional planning.
She spearheaded a grant that involved several districts, including Liberty Hill, that helped schools develop benchmarks and training to improve teaching.
“Then Charlie decided to retire and we knew where home was so we moved back here,” she said.
Since Liberty Hill was part of the grant, she was hired as a third grade teacher, and then asked to work with other local teachers on training and modeling in the classroom.
She said yes to filling the role for one year. Then she discovered former Superintendent Dean Andrews wasn’t looking for anyone else.
A short time later, Braun had to have back fusion and knee replacement surgeries, and admitted she wouldn’t have been able to be the type of teacher she wanted to be.
“But it’s never gone away,” she said. “Every day I’ve missed being in the classroom.”
Over the years, Braun has become one of the state’s most experienced and knowledgeable educators on dyslexia. Years ago, she built relationships with the San Marcos Civic Foundation, and arranged for Liberty Hill teachers to be trained in how to teach students with the learning disorder.
“They (San Marcos Civic Foundation) had never gone outside of Hays County, but they decided because of my background that they would pay to train our teachers. Every year since then, they have paid tuition and expenses to train our teachers.”
She said the dyslexia program in LHISD is now the best in Texas, and of this accomplishment she is the most proud.
“She is driven by a passion for education and doing what’s right for kids,” said Superintendent Rob Hart. “No one is more passionate about Liberty Hill than Claudeane. She loves this place, and it will be a real challenge here without her.”
Braun was one of the first people Hart met when he came to Liberty Hill as Superintendent years ago. But, her reputation was known to him before he arrived from West ISD. As colleagues in the Waco area learned of his move to Liberty Hill, they told him about Braun.
“Her influence has not just been in Liberty Hill, but in the whole education world,” he said. “And I continue to be amazed at how someone with her experience can keep up with all the current trends. Things change so much and so fast. She is on the cutting edge all the time.”
Sherry Hall, director of Special Programs, works closest with Braun. She said Braun’s interest in learning why politicians and education leaders make the decisions they do is at the heart of her efforts to keep Liberty Hill on the path to success.
“She thinks about the intent of rules and laws and has a deep understanding of where we’re trying to go,” said Hall. “She gets truly to the heart of it and investigates why we’re moving this way, what are they thinking. Having the depth of understanding has an impact on how we implement programs and what we do for the children.”
Hall said improving student achievement and keeping children safe and healthy is at the heart of everything Braun does. She noted that Braun’s interest and vision for the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) goes beyond what the state requires for that organization. The health and well-being of Liberty Hill students is important to her and she knows the positive impact SHAC can have on families.
Hart agrees, and adds that Braun’s love for Liberty Hill is genuine and her institutional knowledge of the school district will be missed.
“Claudeane’s expertise is far-reaching,” he said. “As the growth has come, she has been able to stay on top of our performance. She has been an asset to us in so many ways, and is the best ambassador the district has.”
Hart said with Braun’s knowledge of the community, she was able to guide him through some political hot spots through the years.
“She could guide me through the history of the district, why we do the things we do, offer advice on personnel,” he said.
“She is a treasure to this district, and to this community,” Hall added. “She truly cares about people, and has a servant’s heart.”
Braun describes herself as “a worker bee.” She said she never had the desire to run the school district by serving as its superintendent. But through the years, she has been a trusted leader offering stability during times of transition.
“Claudeane has been that steady, mediating force that says let’s take a closer look,” Hall said in reference to changes in teaching strategies. “She is the reason we have such a quality reading program that kids get off to the right start. That’s to her credit.”
Braun said if she had it all to do over, she would still choose education as a career. Even at a time when things are so much more difficult.
“There’s nothing like it. If I get down I go out to campus and see what’s going on with kids, how many positive things and how many ways they can shine,” she said.
Although concerned about the future for Texas public schools, Braun is excited about improvements in technology that will help children be more successful.
“It’s important they (children) have it (technology) at their fingertips. More mobile technology is important for our kids to be successful in their world, because we can’t educate like we did in my world,” she said. “They need more purposeful projects, need answers to pose the right questions, and to work in collaboration with others.”
Braun said the next big thing to bring in is project-based learning, which is more genuine to the workplace. She said vouchers pose a threat to public schools, as well as the increasing numbers of children with more severe problems like autism and behavior disorders.
“Every way they re-package it (vouchers) it’s public money going to private schools,” she said.
With reduced resources, public schools are challenged to find ways to care for increasing numbers of students with serious problems.
“I see more kids with more severe problems – autism, behavior disorders. If we continue the numbers we’re seeing, it’s going to have a major impact because these situations require high personnel needs at higher costs and more people that have to be involved,” she said.
“I think schools and teachers save lives and that’s best done within the public schools,” she said.
Braun said she helped choose her successor , which will make it easier for her to leave her post in June.
“It will be hard to walk away, but I don’t have the energy and stamina for what we need at this time,” Braun said. “I’m looking forward to spending more time with Charlie,” she said, adding that a trip to Arkansas is planned this summer. Braun said in retirement, she would like to make time to tutor students having trouble with reading.
“I like to say ‘children are my business’,” she said.