Henry Gradillas

Educational Consultant, Motivational Speaker, and Past High School Principal

Henry Gradillas, EdD, was the child of a professional boxer and an immigrant mother. He flunked kindergarten because he spoke only Spanish. Mastering English, he quickly became an excellent student. In high school, he achieved the highest honor for a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) student and became the All City Cadet Colonel. This made him commander of all ROTC units in the city of Los Angeles.

Gradillas earned his BS in Agronomy from University of California, Davis, where he stayed active with ROTC and joined the California National Guard. Upon graduation, he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Rising to the rank of Captain with Ranger, Airborne, and Expert Competitive Marksmanship awards, Gradillas earned further recognition as a training officer, with his soldiers executing outstanding performances, earning recognition for breaking gunnery and tactics records.

Gradillas is best known as the principal who worked with legendary high school math teacher Jamie Escalante, who was portrayed by Edward James Olmos in the film Stand and Deliver. Following up on his work with Escalante, Gradillas coauthored a book describing his teaching principles: Standing and Delivering: What the Movie Didn’t Tell.

Gradillas has served as a Commissioner for the National Commission on Drug Free Schools. He has been a Special Consultant on the staff of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California. He has served as principal at several high schools in California and Michigan. He has been a motivational speaker and consultant throughout North America. He has managed a working ranch. And into his mid eighties he continued to work as a tutor, substitute teacher, and court interpreter.

At age 50 Gradillas went back to school to earn his doctorate in education from Brigham Young University, specializing in secondary education curricula. He and his wife Gayle live near Ashland, Wisconsin.

In 2014, TheBestSchools created the Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education and honored the late Jaime Escalante, Henry Gradillas, and Angelo Villavicencio (a protégé of Jaime Escalante) as founding recipients. Together, they set the standard for all future prize winners. TheBestSchools discontinued the prize in 2017, but AcademicInfluence.com hopes to reinstitute it soon. Stay tuned.