O'Farrell Charter School Receives National Attention for Excellence in Urban Education

August 27, 2015

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O'Farrell Community School was named one of ten schools in the nation as a finalist in the gold/silver level of the 2015 National Excellence in Urban Education awards by the National Center for Urban School Transformation and was awarded the silver award in May.

The San Diego charter school was recognized for being one of the highest performing urban schools in the nation based on their work serving a diverse student population in grades kindergarten through 11th grade with a high percentage of low-income students.

The National Center for Urban School Transformation at San Diego State University provides research and support to transform troubled urban districts.

O'Farrell Community School is making an impact in the lives of students like Leonardo Falcon, who credits O'Farrell for helping him define his college goals early. In fact, this high school senior was awarded the Presidential Scholarship to Stanford University in addition to a $10,000 scholarship by QuestBridge, an organization that connects academically talented low-income students to top universities.

"O'Farrell set me on track with planning for college," said Falcon. "I never knew what college was all about and why you needed to get good grades - I always got good grades, but didn't know that good grades were the indicator of your future success."

Falcon attended O'Farrell in 6th through 9th grades and transferred to a local high school because O'Farrell did not offer 10th through 12th grades at that time. According to O'Farrell High School Principal Brian Rainey, the school started as a middle school and has added a high school grade level each year - next school year will be the first year that O'Farrell will have a graduating senior class.

Falcon points to the dedicated teachers who stayed after school and made themselves available at lunch and before school to help students. He said that while teachers were flexible with family situations that prevented students from completing assignments, they pushed students to master the subjects.

Principal Rainey points to the school's focus on relationships with students and a rigorous hiring process as key components of the school's success with student achievement. "Students are known and loved here," Rainey said.

In fact, nearly 100 of the 350 high school students participate in the before- and after-school program, called DIVE, every day. O'Farrell was awarded grant money to run an extended day program. Operating one hour before school each day and after school until 5 p.m., the program provides tutoring and enrichment activities like morning fitness, film and video, and intramural sports.

"Students don't want to leave here," Rainey said. "It's all about giving them experiences - experiences that some kids don't have access to."

Rainey shares that when they took a group of students mountain biking, some students in the 11th grade were learning how to ride a bike for the first time.

O'Farrell High School students attend "home base" as their first class of the day. Each student has a "home base" teacher that serves as their one point of contact for everything from needing extra help with classes to challenges they experience.

"The 'home base' teacher is the direct point of contact for the student and their families," Rainey said. "They essentially serve as that student's parent, or advocate, at school."

According to Rainey, 30 percent of the students do not live with either biological parent and 12 percent are foster children. But, this does not prevent the school from providing a rigorous academic program and high behavior expectations.

In fact, O'Farrell is an AVID National Demonstration School, expecting all students to perform academically at a high level. Out of the 350 students, 45 percent take Advanced Placement courses and out of the students in the 11th grade, 63 percent take AP courses.

"The teachers saw that I wanted to do more and they challenged me; they pushed me," said Falcon, who plans to study political science at Stanford University this fall.

According to Falcon, his path to Stanford began at O'Farrell when he defined his goals and college became something that was within his reach.