Keeping the Promise: Our Mission Promise Neighborhood Kids Are Graduating from High School

The Montoya-Alcocer Family. Josue Alcocer is a 2017 John O’Connell High School graduate.
He is now attending City College.

Photo credit: Madeleine Bair

Co-authored by:
MPN Director of Program Evaluation, Learning & Impact Morgan Buras-Finlay
John O’Connell High School Principal Susan Ryan

There is some great news coming out of John O’Connell High School: Graduation rates have increased, with Latino and African American students now graduating at higher rates than from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

(Read full data brief.)

By the numbers
Check out the impressive numbers for John O’Connell High School:

  • 86 percent of students graduated in 2016 (just one percent shy of SFUSD’s overall rate).
  • 88 percent of Latino students graduated in 2016 (compared to 75 percent of Latinos in SFUSD).
  • 93 percent of African American students graduated in 2016 (22 percent higher than the rate for African Americans in SFUSD).

These results occurred via a concerted effort, built over 15 years, with the final part of the equation the addition of the Mission Promise Neighborhood. This education initiative brought together 25+ community-based partners to engage in a collective struggle to overcome the predictive power of demographics. (MEDA is the lead agency of the Mission Promise Neighborhood.)

John O’Connell High School students arrive having faced disproportionate challenges of inequitable access to academic and economic opportunity. Fifty percent of students come with low attendance and GPAs in 8th grade, both early warning indicators.

Collective strategy: co-teaching approach
John O’Connell High School and the Mission Promise Neighborhood have jointly adopted a multidisciplinary co-teaching approach.

Says John O’Connell Principal Susan Ryan of this community strategy: “Our College and Career Center offers a holistic model for assisting students. It is an innovative partnership with multiple partner organizations, with the common goal of ensuring that all students are prepared to thrive in the professional world. This collaboration is unique in that each partner has staff embedded in the classroom, working alongside credentialed teachers.”

Team co-planning and co-teaching among classroom teachers and partner program staff has enabled John O’Connell High School to support students’ academic and socio-emotional development, ultimately building a school culture that does not wait for students to struggle and instead helps students expeditiously reach their goals.  

Part of this strategy is harnessing the power of a trio of tried-and-true programs: SFUSD’s Mentoring for Success, Student Success Coaches and Mission Graduates’ college access program. Integrating supportive adults into the school day contributes to increases in feelings of safety and adult support among John O’Connell students.

As Mission Graduates Executive Director Eddie Kaufman explains, “John O’Connell’s model of partners working with students in the school day was aligned with our approach to college access: that our program’s foundation is the relationships built with students. Working with students in their classes throughout high school meant we had four years to develop their college-going expectations.”  

Additionally, the family success coach, community school coordinator and student success coach work daily to build a college-going culture, strengthening student and parent comfort levels with navigating what can be a daunting process. This is especially true of our newcomer parents, for whom the college requirement, application and financial aid processes are intimidating.

Explains Community School Coordinator Paola Zuniga, “These changes offered a unique opportunity for O’Connell staff and partners for shifting services away from disconnected programs serving targeted groups, toward a cohesive program serving all students at each grade level. In this manner, partners and staff embed with teacher teams to support positive behavior systems, provide academic coaching and offer individualized attention as needed.”

Bettered graduation rates are an important piece of the cradle-to-college-to-career continuum on which our Mission Promise Neighborhood kids travel.

And here’s another important number: In 2017, 76 percent of students at John O’Connell said they planned to attend a two- or four-year college after graduating.

The Promise Neighborhood initiative was inspired by New York’s Harlem Children’s Zone Director Geoffrey Canada’s promise that every kid, no matter their background, had the capacity to do well in school and graduate.

“In San Francisco, we are keeping the promise,” sums up Ryan.



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