Changing the Whole School
On California’s school ranking system, Samueli Academy is just one point from perfect. Students passed state math exams at 99 percent and state literacy exams at 94 percent – over 10 points higher than the state averages. Samueli Academy was also named a 2017 California Gold Ribbon School, an award only given to eight percent of California public schools.
When reviewing the accomplishments, Samueli Academy Executive Director Anthony Saba said, “To be honest with you, I don’t care about those.”
What does he care about?
He put it this way: “We had a 99 percent graduation rate. Only one student didn’t graduate and we’re not giving up on him. 97 percent of those graduates are sitting in college right now. We’ve got five or six kids who chose to go into the military. […] We’re really proud of them.”
Samueli Academy is a charter high school in Santa Ana, California in its fifth year of operation. It serves all students, but was originally founded to help those who are in the foster care system or in need of extra support.
Samueli Academy is a part of The Orangewood Foundation, a local non-profit that has provided support to foster youth in Orange County for over 35 years, providing resources, options for housing, and social and emotional skill training. Samueli was founded after Orangewood Foundation leaders and community members realized they could more effectively help foster children by providing resources and skills earlier in a child’s life.
Even with the advantage of the highest attendance rate in Orange County, college and career preparedness starts on the first day of school. It does not let up. For many students, Samueli is both their first and only exposure to college as one in every three students come from a home where neither parent has a high school degree. Students have a required advisory class twice a week that revolves around college and career preparedness.
Of the 500 students at Samueli Academy, about 20 of them are in the foster care system. Saba noted this presents a challenge because, like many schools, they have a bell-shaped curve of students with different academic needs.
“We have kids who come to us with severe emotional needs, some with English language learner needs and then there are those who are on track and want to get to an Ivy League School. We need to serve all of these kids inclusively.” Saba said.
Saba said he chose to work with New Tech Network because of the focus on a holistic approach. Saba said that while there are many other high quality organizations in the PBL market, NTN is the only one that focuses on whole school transformation.
“I knew that if we were going to do this right, we were going to need a whole school approach to this, not just one-off trainings. We are offsetting the statistics for a lot of kids today, not just foster youth.” Saba said.