After more than five years under the state’s program improvement status, in a neighborhood school where 100 percent of students qualify for free lunch, The O’Farrell Charter School has reached a peak that most schools strive for: An API (Academic Performance Index) score of 805. That’s a 69-point increase from the school’s API in 2011 of 736. Additionally, the school has met 25 of 25 of its AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) categories; a feat very few schools in California accomplish each year. Overall, 57 percent of the school’s students performed at the proficient or advanced level in English Language Arts, and 56 percent in mathematics.

Members of the school’s leadership team attribute the increase in student achievement to numerous factors. One major factor is that the school has cohesive grade-level teaching teams that spend much time in professional development sessions to improve their teaching. The focus for the past two school years has been on strategies to use with English Language Learners and on AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) strategies to increase the use of rigor in all levels of classes, not just in the honors classes. Teachers meet twice weekly as teaching teams to discuss student issues, share common strategies and focus on planning and curriculum creation for subject area departments. Cohesive, common conversations about teaching strategies and about student performance on assessments have resulted in better teaching and an increase in student success. In March 2012, the school was named an “AVID National Demonstration School,” only the second charter school in the nation to receive this prestigious distinction.

Additionally, a strong focus is put on ensuring all students are receiving support at the level they need. A middle of the day “skills” class spends time on reading and math intervention, based on the students’ proficiency levels. Online programs are used for both reading and math to help students to fill in gaps of any skill deficiencies that are keeping them from being successful in their grade level courses. Zero period math courses are also offered to provide more skill-building time for students who may be struggling in math and after-school tutoring classes offer homework support.

The school also puts great focus on holding students accountable for behavior and for teaching students how to be successful in the classroom, all by building strong relationships with students through a “homebase” class. All students follow the FALCON Way, which stands for Focus, Attitude, Leadership, Citizenship, Organization and Non-Violence. Lessons are provided twice a week on topics ranging from appropriate behavior, citizenship development, community service and reflecting on progress in classes. Students are provided a safe, secure environment where it’s okay to succeed, and it’s also okay to fail because your teachers will be there to help you get back on the right path to succeed the next time.

As a charter school, O’Farrell has the ability to create policy, choose curriculum and hire teachers at the school site. All decisions are made with the student’s best interests and student success in mind. The leadership team has made great strides to build a cohesive educational environment, where all teachers truly believe that all students will succeed.

Jonathan C. Dean, is the executive director at O’Farrell Community School.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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