DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A charter school in Durham is celebrating a big honor. Several years ago, the school was at risk of being shut down for poor academic performance and now it’s earned a national award.

Students at Durham Charter School have lots of reasons to be proud. Their test scores improved dramatically over the past five years, but students say their school has become a place where they feel safe, supported and passionate about learning.

The school’s success is being recognized on a national level. The National ESEA School of Distinction program recognizes outstanding Title One schools, which serve students from low-income families.

“We are one of 55 schools in the entire country that earned the distinction,” said executive director, Alex Quigley.

Quigley says 95 percent of his students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the pandemic really took a toll on their community. The school recently ranked third in proficiency among other charter schools in Durham County.

“The last two, two-and-a-half, years through the pandemic have been really challenging,” Quigley recalled. “To see our students at our school perform better even than they did, by a large margin, prior to the pandemic, it’s affirming of all the hard work that went into place.”

The award will enable some of the charter school’s teachers and leaders to attend a national conference.

“It’s come out an important time because we are about to grow and expand to a 50-acre campus and over 1,200 students eventually, so it feels like we’re really heading into the next 25 years,” said Quigley.

Friday, state education leaders, students and parents gathered for a ceremony to celebrate.

“It’s neat to hear them talk with pride about their school, and I think they feel a sense of ownership over what we’ve accomplished, so it’s been special,” Quigley said.

But their work isn’t finished. Quigley hopes this honor inspires students, teachers, and school leaders to achieve even more.

“We’re just excited to take a moment and recognize the success, but the focus is on forward,” he explained. “We’re excited about it, but we’re not trying to be a one hit wonder.”