Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bernal visits Synergy School

Busy week here...three tours (Synergy, Fairmount and Marshall) and two open houses (Live Oak and Brandeis).

We went to Synergy knowing pretty much nothing about the school. People seem to feel very strongly about the school - one way or the other. Love or hate! It made our location cut-off and its a real bargain (kidding people)  at 15K/year. Over 1/3 of their families receive tuition assistance.

The school sits on the corner of Valencia and 25th Street and you might walk by it hundreds of times without knowing it exists.  It used to be a funeral home and mortuary. The classrooms were good size with lots of windows. There is a blacktop area for the older kids and a more playground-like area for the younger kids with sandboxes, play structures, etc.

The tour consisted of a one hour talk by the head of admissions/kindergarten teacher and then a tour of the school. Standard fare, I am learning.

The core tenets are: encouragement, cooperation, respect, responsibility and logical and natural consequences. The teachers and children agree to follow six agreements:
1. keeping a safe place without prejudice, for everyone body and feelings
2. respecting all property
3. participating academically
4. participating in all other school activities
5. being in a designated space
6. agreeing to leave quickly and quietly when waved out

Agreement number six, being waved out was described as a nonverbal cue (like a wave) that a teacher can use to signal to a child who is being disruptive in class. The child knows what this means, walks to the door, touches it and then returns to the activity. The rationale behind this being that the child is not called out in front of the peers and being singled out verbally.

School hours are 8:00 AM - 3 PM. There is AM care starting at 7AM and after-school care that runs until 6PM. The before and after hour programs are staffed by teachers and a lot of alumni. The school is K-8 and is tiny with a total of 170 children.  When asked about parent involvement the response was "as much as you can be here we love". Every family is expected to join one committee.

All grades are combination classes meaning that Junior kindergarten and kindergarten are together, first and second, second and third, fourth and fifth (2 classrooms) and then 6/7/8 are  sort of together (more on that in a bit).

kinder - 24 students
1st/2nd: 27 students
2nd/3rd : 27 students
4th/5th: 21 students per classroom (2 classrooms)
6/7/8: 23 per grade

Young K/Kindergarten has three teachers and the rest of the classrooms have between 2-3 teachers per class. Most teachers have been at Synergy for over 14 years although a 'couple' are new within the last two years. There is no head of school. Three teachers share administrative duties (ie, one of the kinder teachers also being the director of admissions). All teachers that work over 80% time are also on the board of trustees. This board has over 40 members and includes teacher, parents, community members and alumni.

Young kindergarten is for students turning five in september, october or november. There are six young kinder spots in the class of 24. There is a lot of outdoor time for the kinder and first grades - at least three scheduled outdoor times; however, they might be outside more for various instruction.

The school offers art, drama, music and PE twice weekly for all grades. Spanish starts in kindergarten.
There is no cafeteria and kids eat outside, weather permitting or in their classrooms if its too cold or wet outside.  There is also a part-time learning specialist. The library was small and dark. Laptops are loaned to each child starting sixth (I think) grade.

Diversity. By far the most diverse looking group. As diverse as any of the public schools I have seen. There was also a wall with family pictures and the single moms, single dads, biracial, etc, etc, etc were evident.

All curriculum (for all grades) is taught on two-year rotations so that curriculum is not repeated in the second year.  Curriculum is taught in both whole and small group instruction.

Homework starts in first grade in a 'menu style', meaning eight activities are offered and the child has to pick one or two. Homework time is about 20 minutes in the first grade and increases to about 1.5 hours in middle school.

Synergy provides themselves on their progressive education. They spoke at length about what progressive means to them and some of those things are:

  • a hands on learning and experiential learning environment
  • an integrated project-based curriculum
  • social responsibility and democratic participation
  • environmental and sustainability education
And the list goes on and on...............(I can share more if you want).

A couple specific programs that are used are Spell Well and Making Math Real. They are also participating in a mentorship program with the Cal Academy of Science (staff from there come to the school three times a week of teacher and student trainings). They also have an outdoor education program which I cant read my notes about :)

Last year 14 kids graduated and went to a combination of schools - independent Bay, Convent, Drew, Urban, Waldorf, Lick), parochial, public and charter. Ten of the 12 were accepted at Lowell and one chose to attend. The previous year 10 were accepted at Lowell as well.

Looking around at the kids, parents at drop off and teachers we felt that our family could easily blend in here. My husband was very impressed and I am certainly intrigued. It's small for sure. I also need to learn more about the mixed age groupings. It's definitely not off our list (how's that for indecisiveness).

This year there will be about five kindergarten spots available.

What do you know about this school? My curiosity has been peeked...


  1. We just toured this school and loved it - it was our favorite independent school and we will definitely will be applying. Teachers looked excellent and kids were very engaged.

  2. Thanks for posting notes on Synergy ... sounds like a special school!

  3. Anon at 4 pm ... I agree that the teachers were some of the best out of all privates I toured.

  4. why are there so few spots? are there that many siblings?

  5. there are 24 spots total, 6 of which go to young K, leaving 18 spots.

    Out of the 18 spots for K, they are anticipating that all but one of their young K wil enter kinder which brings it to 13 spots. Then 8 siblings, leaving 5 spots!

  6. Here's my question: how does Synergy compare to SF Community? I saw both, and they seemed quite a bit alike. Except one was free.