Anita Berger (left), principal of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, was named the principal of the year for D.C. Public Schools on Tuesday. in this file photo from September 2011, Berger and former Chancellor Kaya Henderson are shown chatting after a visit from former President Barack Obama. (Marvin Joseph/Washington Post)

Anita Berger is D.C. Public Schools’s principal of the year, earning the honors for her work to boost graduation rates and academic achievement at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.

School officials, including incoming chancellor Antwan Wilson and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, surprised Berger at the school with the news Tuesday morning.

Wilson, who starts his new job on Feb. 1, praised Berger for her leadership in helping to raise the school’s math and reading test scores by more than 20 percent in one year and graduating 100 percent of its students. The school also saw a 35 percent increase in the number of students passing Advanced Placement exams, according to D.C. school officials.

“I know when you have an awesome high school that is leading the country in so many ways, that’s because you have a tremendous principal,” Wilson told a classroom of chemistry students.

Berger, a D.C. native, said she was in the sixth grade when she knew she wanted to be an educator. She began her career in 1993 teaching physical education at the school. She became Banneker’s principal in 2005.

“I never imagined being a principal,” Berger said. “I didn’t have confidence in myself. I knew it was a hard job, but I knew if I positioned myself around some positive, hard-working people that I would be able to do it.”

Banneker is a selective-admissions school in Northwest and has enough low-income students that its entire student body is offered free lunch. The school generally is high-performing because it draws from among the city’s top students; students at Banneker have to maintain strong grades to stay in the school.

Former President Obama visited Banneker twice during his tenure, giving a 23-minute speech there in October that highlighted his administration’s efforts to improve public education, heaping praise on the District’s schools for their recent academic progress.

Obama noted that D.C. Public Schools was an early and enthusiastic adopter of many of his administration’s key priorities, including the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations tied to student test scores.

Though at an advantage because it is selective, Berger said that it is still a challenge to educate all of Banneker’s students because “they don’t come in ready.”

“It’s a myth that I have the best kids in the city and my job is easy. It’s not as easy as people think,” Berger said. “We have to get them ready.”