John Braly, a Norman Public Schools teacher and administrator of more than a decade who served as a beloved assistant principal at two district schools, died this week of multiple health complications.
Braly, who worked with the district as a technology specialist at the time of his death, died Wednesday evening, his wife, Alison, wrote on Facebook. A longtime educator, Braly was a science teacher for years before he became an administrator.
“The man was always a scientist at heart. Things had to be orderly. So, at 10:28 PM on 10/28/20, John went on ahead of us to what lies on the other side of this mortal life,” Alison wrote in a post quoted here with her permission.
Norman and NPS community members flooded Facebook with memories of Braly and thoughts for his family Thursday, reflecting on Braly’s big heart and huge impact on his students.
"He had the best sense of humor and he was one of the smartest people I ever met,” wrote Michelle Strain, a friend and former colleague of Braly's (Strain’s post is used with permission). "Most importantly, he loved big, especially his students. He had a way with them that left them feeling heard and valued and loved.”
Braly started his NPS career as a science teacher at Irving Middle School, a position he served in from 2009 to 2013. From there, he took on the role of instructional coach at the school in 2014. While he continued to progress through instructional positions at Irving, Braly also was furthering his own education, and completed his master’s degree in educational administration at the University of Oklahoma.
“Mr. Braly was masterful at the art of our work, but he was also a scholar and a philosopher of education,” NPS Associate Superintendent Holly Nevels wrote in a Thursday email to NPS faculty and staff. “He loved to dig deeply into the science of teaching and learning as well.”
From Irving, Braly became a leader in the district, and was chosen as Longfellow Middle School’s assistant principal in 2014. He stayed at Longfellow for four years, moving to the same position at Jackson Elementary in 2018. This year, Braly moved to his final position with Norman Public Schools, a Technology Services Center job that allowed him to work from home due to his ongoing health risks.
While no longer a science teacher, Braly still shared science stories and videos with students via a dedicated Facebook page, where he posted until early October.
Braly was always teaching in some way, said Christine Hrubik, a choir teacher at Longfellow Middle School who started at the school the same year as Braly.
Braly was a creative problem solver who was always improving the people around him, she said. Even as he progressed into administration, he was a fierce supporter of teachers, she said.
“If we’re doing a teachable moment, John’s gonna do the teachable moment. … He was just filled with all of these ideas that would help you and your classroom, or would help a kid to navigate a math problem or a science problem,” Hrubik said.
Braly knew how to genuinely connect with and reach kids, Hrubik said — he saw them fully, and made sure they knew it. He had a heart for middle school, and tipped Hrubik off to one of his tricks for remembering the good in his teaching: keeping a file of all the best moments, the Post-It Notes, the cards from students, that would remind him of why he did what he did.
“He knew (students) to the core of who they were — he met them where they were so that they could thrive,” Hrubik said. “He did it at middle school, he did it when he was at Jackson Elementary. The loss for Norman Public Schools will be great.”
Braly was “a tremendous educator” whose passing has left the district heartbroken, NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said in a statement Tuesday,
“John had the ability as a former classroom teacher, later a school administrator and most currently a member of our technology services team to connect with students and fellow teachers in ways that influenced their perspectives and made everyone better,” Migliorino said. “He had a gentle spirit, servant's heart and keen sense of humor. We are currently filled with sadness, but will continue to find comfort through his example of friendship, service, love and laughter.”
Even through years-long health difficulties, Braly was resilient, remaining a kind, gentle and funny presence in the lives of his friends and colleagues.
While Braly had contracted an infection, then COVID-19, within the last few weeks and was hospitalized, he also dealt with a number of other complications, Alison Braly said in a Facebook post. Alongside COVID and the infection, Braly had been in renal failure for several years, and was waiting on a double transplant, Alison wrote.
Ultimately, the combination of health complications meant that by Wednesday night, “his body had fought all it could,” his wife said.
"He had fought for so long, and he had remained so strong, and if it had been possible for him to stay here with us he would still be fighting,” Alison’s post read. "When it became clear that multiple complications had arisen, and there was simply too much to overcome, and that he would suffer if we tried to keep him here, we asked that he be allowed to leave peacefully."
Braly’s memory and legacy will long outlast him in the community, his wife wrote. Just a glimmer of the lives he touched shone through Thursday, as the people he’d loved so well poured out their memories and love online.
“His reach was wide and his impact great,” Alison wrote. “He will be forever irreplaceable.”
Alison Braly has requested via Facebook that those “inclined to send something” instead donate to the American Kidney Foundation, a local animal shelter, or to an educator’s school or classroom wishlist in her husband’s name.