Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From a Reader: Synergy or Creative Arts Charter?

Help!!!! My child was accepted to both Synergy and Creative Arts Charter school. On paper they look almost identical. The only real difference is the ratio. Synergy having a little better 13:1 in Kindergarten and a foreign language is taught at Synergy. Please any thoughts?? I need help I just cant make the decision on my own I keep thinking I am going to make the wrong one even though it's a win win either way. Thank you!! 

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  1. It sounds like either situation would work out well for your family and child, which is great. I would only gently say that there are a lot of families waiting for spots to open up so that they might have at least one option, so the sooner you can notify the schools of your decision, the sooner you will relieve another family of their own awful stress. If you decide this week, one more child may have the chance to go to the first day of Kindergarten and not start late. I wish you luck in this decision!

  2. Figure on about $180K over the 9 years for Synergy, because tuition will go up over time, and you will be asked to contribute money on top of tuition. If the money is not a the deciding factor, consider:

    (a) location and start time--which works best for your commute? Even an extra few minutes to get going in the morning, or a little less traffic, can mean the difference between relaxed and harassed starts to your days. .

    (b) How much of a priority is some elementary school Spanish instruction? Unless it's an immersion school or you speak Spanish at home, your child is not likely to come out fluent in Spanish. Your child might have access to just as much Spanish in an after-school program at CACS.

    (c) Do you think your kid needs the smaller student-teacher ratio? Smaller classes where the teacher can support our kid without shortchanging the other students are a priority for us because he is diagnosed ADHD.
    (d) If you plan to be active in the school community, where do you feel more comfortable?
    (e) CACS has had something of a reputation for administrative drama, well-founded or not I don't know. Also, I don't know how stable their location is--my understanding is that SFUSD can relocate charter schools on a whim. That could affect your choice, depending on your need for stability.
    (f) If the school communities, programs and outcomes are similar and Synergy tuition is a stretch for you, $180,000 is a lot of retirement savings, college money, and/or money to have fun with. Multiply that amount by how many kids you have.

  3. Here are a few distinctions on paper.

    Synergy is significantly smaller, has mixed grade classrooms, and a more racially diverse enrollment. Synergy has 23 kindergarteners, and typically 17-18 students per grade for grades 1-3, with a total of 186 students in 2012-13. It is 45% white only, and including multiracial students, 25% Asian, 15% Hispanic, 15% African American. These percentages are essentially unchanged compared to 3 years ago, in 2009-10.

    Creative Arts Charter loops its students, keeping the same class with the same teacher for more than 1 year. It has far fewer Asian students, 7% vs Synergy's 25%. Creative Arts Charter has historically alternated between 22 and 44 students per grade, with a total of 328 students in 2012-13. In 2011-12, the school overall was 49% white, 13% African American, 12% Asian, 11% Latino overall. There seems to be a demographic shift in the younger grades, with more white students and fewer of other races, especially Asian. For grades K-2, it was 55% white, 10% African American, 9% Latino, 7% Asian, 6% Multiracial, and 10% Decline to State.

    Muppet put up a nice review of CACS, with many comments from CACS parents. http://www.sfkfiles.com/2012/10/tour-of-creative-arts-charter-school.html





  4. Sounds like you prefer Synergy, as you mentioned they feel identical to you except for the ratio (Synergy has a better one) and language (Synergy offers Spanish). So go for Synergy since it has the slight edge for you. Many readers of this blog would give their eyeteeth to get a spot at Synergy, provided you can afford the tuition. Meanwhile you'll make someone very happy to get a spot at CAC. Good luck!

  5. I'm with you. I'm sort of incredulous that anyone is still on the fence at this late date! It would be helpful if the poster would list what their top priorities were for a school so that others could help him/her decide. Personally, I think it might just come down to money. If you can afford the tuition, go for it!

  6. Incredulity is a completely fair reaction...

    ...but I can empathize as our family is ALSO still on the fence, in our case between a 'less competitive' Spanish immersion program, and CACS. :P

    Our situation is that we love CACS and the ethos implicit in the communications we've had so far, and it seems like a very good fit for us...

    ...but, our kid tested fluent in Spanish in the SFUSD eval and it is excruciating to commit to a monolingual school where the current bilingualism fade instead of blooming into biliteracy, when we have a good immersion option on the table.

    For us it's felt essentially like a 'win-win' -- but made impossible by the fact that in both cases something real would be given up. There would be some real costs (e.g. harder commutes; younger sibling whose interests must also factor in given the sibling tie-breaker; the district's hostility to charters...) beyond just the educational philosophy.

    (Fwiw there isn't a waiting pool in our category at our SI program, but there is of course at CACS and we've felt guilty about squatting one of those spots (but which one). It's not defensible, but we have nonetheless continued to do so feeling 'against the wall' as we have swung back and forth a dozen times trying to decide what to 'give up...)

    Sightly more on-topic comment: we asked CACS folks about the possibility of establishing serious Spanish after-school there (it doesn't exist now).

    There is apparently perpetual interest -- but it's procedurally and practically proven difficult to translate that into a sustainable program with enough participation to make it work.

    The commitment there to equal access to all after-school offering (one we really appreciate, and I greatly admired wherever we found it e.g. touring Grattan) also means funding for such a program could also require some real effort (e.g. serious fundraising to support it under the same sliding-scale/financial aid model as exists already).

    Ugh. High class problems are still real and draining problems! We are so exhausted by this. :(

  7. But what exactly are you waiting for? What's going to make your mind up and is there any chance that your preference will be influenced by something that happens between today and Monday? Just decide and move on! There are potentially dozens of families that are waiting on your decision when you factor in the domino effect if you elect to give up the CACS spot to someone else who really wants it. You say yourself that you're exhausted by all this but you have the power make it stop!

  8. 'Just decide' would be reasonable if deciding between two comparable schools with 'regular old' pros and cons... for our values, this is a much much more difficult contest between significantly different (better) education style, and our kids' bilingualism.

    If one doesn't care about those things equally, it'd be an easy decision -- but we do, and hence have been losing sleep for three months.

    Until this week we've been going through the motions of course with every successive round and waitpool, trying to get our first-choice Immersion program which is enough more compelling that it would have settle things... until Tuesday or so that was a potential pre-Monday solution.

    Since we didn't get Round 4 (surprise surprise) we're now just waiting for the Round 5 shuffle like a lot of other people to see if the mythical 'lots of movement' affects us.

    And yep have to go SOMEWHERE on Monday. Been acting like it's one of them. But still wracked with doubt over whether we're making the wrong choice.

  9. So, have you accepted spots at both CACS and the SFUSD immersion school? We too were offered a spot at a CACS and another SFUSD school. It was a hard decision but we abided by the April deadline and accepted only one of them. It's just not right to be holding on to two spots for months when so many others have nothing they are happy with.

  10. We were offered the spot at CACS the 1st week in August , so technically it's been 2 weeks . The decision has been made well technically it was made a couple of days ago. I do appreciate everyone's help. Thank you

  11. Agree that it's not right.

    Yet I would also say: don't hate the playa, hate the game.

    Many many things are both wrong and and not right about the process the SFUSD expects of us.

    Exploiting a toe-hold does add to the total burden of stress and chaos, but it's pretty minor compared to e.g. the inequities of CTIP IMHO.

    Sincere apologies if you're the one, or better, TO the ones, we're discomforting. It's not personal.

  12. Spending all that money for an identical product is wasteful. You are comparing apples to apples. Putting aside my clear bias for public education, you just aren't getting much for the $14,000 additional.

    My best friend's middle schooler is at Creative Arts and is in love with it. It's definitely not a science, math and hard driven place. It's very free and fits great with the personalities of a creative kid.

    If you think Creative might be lacking (which is probably isn't) then send your kid there and spend $14,000 on enrichment. Like personal violin lessons, personal language lessons, and six wee YEARLY trip to Europe or Asia. That would cost less than $14,000, and you'd end up ahead.

    My bottom line is, parents think they're getting something extra for a private school, but usually, they're really not. And the stuff they miss by not being in public school is huge. I've gone both ways with my five kids, private and public. The best teachers (best paid, most professional, most educated, best educated, career minded lifers) are in the public schools.

  13. Synergy is not immersion, but they do report that many of their eighth graders achieve fluency. I don't know if this is true or not, that was not our chief priority. I do know that the Spanish teacher is really engaging, dynamic and a native speaker.

    It is a lot of money, and definitely a sacrifice for us. Nevertheless, we feel really lucky and excited to have the opportunity.

  14. I wanted to clarify--in your case I was comparing apples to apples. Now if the choice was Hamlin vs Creative Arts, that's a totally different proposal.

    In many ways, I kinda want the parents who have the choice, to go ahead and send their kid to the private. That way it opens up a slot for families who can in now way afford it, and either get public school or leave the city.

    As much as I want all types of families to go public...

  15. Whether it's "wasteful" to spend the money (assuming one has it and other factors such as commute paths, start times and extended care availability are equal) depends on both the school and the kid. For independent learners, assertive kids, kids who qualify for an IEP, or kids whose parents are able and willing to spend a lot of time making sure their kids are working and learning to capacity, a decent public school is fine. It's hard to know what kind of kid you have in kindergarten. For a kid who tends to drift but is not learning-impaired, a private school that offers smaller classes and personal attention to each student, not just the stars and the challenged kids, can make the difference between treading water and excelling. My daughter and I both experienced public schools that let us float along with good grades without actually learning much because we behaved, and private schools that cajoled and challenged us to reach potential. Not every private school offers the experiences we had, but it was a remarkable contrast. I can't think of a single thing either of us "missed" by leaving public school, other than disruptive kids who didn't want to learn.

    I have to respectfully disagree with the generalization about teacher quality. Private schools absolutely do vary and, unlike public schools, no law imposes any specific teacher credentialing requirements, so caveat emptor. But academically strong private schools require teaching credentials, encourage pursuit of MA degrees, provide generous professional development opportunities, pay decently, and in many cases offer a more resourced teaching experience with fewer, if any, severe learning or behavior problems to manage. Private schools also have more freedom to let teachers go if they are not effective. I know I had 25% strong teachers in my 8 years of public school and 75% strong teachers in my 5 years of private and I think my daughter would say the same. It would be interesting to survey people who've had both experiences and see if our experience is typical, outlier, or somewhere in between.Certainly you will run into some bad eggs in either public or private school, and not all student-teacher matches are going to be ideal.

    If I were presented the choice between CACS and Synergy and was not aware of any issues that would make a smaller classroom materially better for my child, based on what I know of the schools' programs, I'd probably pick CACS.

  16. Totally agree with Marlowe's mom on teacher quality and public vs. private. I have 2 kids and we've done a mix of private and public for elementary, middle and HS. There are good and bad teachers in both systems, but the very best teachers we experienced (education level, commitment, engagement with the kids) were in a private K-8. This was also the school with the most cohesive community and the most impressive educational program. Since then we've had a more mixed experience with a public MS and a private HS. I've also experienced personally and with my kids that private schools have the resources to provide more challenge and more personal attention, where public schools have fewer resources with which to educate a much broader range of learners. This translates into more kids slipping through the cracks in public schools; many kids will do just fine, but not the ones who require more individualized attention, more challenge, etc.

    Private schools also have the freedom to offer unique programs (not all do.) It's absolutely not true that public schools are in all cases providing an identical product for free to what you'd get at good private schools (though I'd agree that Synergy and CACS are probably on a par.)

  17. Idle comment, as far as I understand it, charter schools were created as a class specifically to have much the same discretion (with the idea of providing the same flexibility in programming and staffing).

    Of course, they're still constrained by funding and face challenges being beholden to (but unbeloved of) the district... but in theory at least they should be more 'like' privates in some of these regards.

  18. So you don't believe that those of us with positive comments about private schools have actually attended public schools, as we have stated we have. That makes it a little difficult to engage in a meaningful discussion.

    Sorry to not conform to your world view, but I stand by my comments.

  19. We had a very similar problem last year - Synergy or Miraloma. I lost weeks of sleep and spent countless hours trying to systematically make the decision. I can tell you with confidence that there was one no right answer. I never had an "a-ha" moment where I knew what to do. I went with Miraloma because I thought I was incredibly lucky to get in (no AA, no siblings) and because I thought that my kid was likely going to benefit equally (in different ways) at both schools and I just couldn't justify the money. I figured I'd save it for MS or HS if we need to go that route. If money was just no object, I probably would have gone with Synergy. We are very happy at Miraloma. I do have moments where I wonder if my kid would have been better off...but they are fleeting....and ultimately they are learning and thriving...so that's my best gauge...

  20. What have you decided?

  21. I am writing because I was interested in one of the comments on this
    thread which used statistics on class size and ethnic make-up to
    conclude Synergy was the best fit between two school. I do not think
    this is the best basis on which to make a decision. I have lived in SF
    for years but always worked in higher ed, outside of the city. Last
    year , when I conducted a search for a school for my first born, was the
    first time I had time to think about city schools. More than ever in
    my twenty year career as an educator and researcher I have come to
    understand that the choice of schools is so much more than statistics,
    or price or philosophy. It is all those things and somehow it is
    something more. It is about trust and partnership. How do we evaluate
    potential schools along all of these measures? Well we have to start
    somewhere and I began my search at Synergy, the first tour. I asked
    about accreditation (they aren't accredited) and was told that they are
    a teacher co-op. That is not an answer. Co-ops can be accredited. In
    fact it is probably more important for a school that is run by teachers
    and not by a non-staff board or district to be accredited. Synergy is
    one of the few schools that does not discuss the educational background
    of it's faculty or professional development on the school webpage.
    When I asked about these things I got 'a look.' Oops. A friend of mine
    was accepted and is distraught because this year's interim
    kindergarten teacher is not a trained teacher. I have the highest regard
    for people who work with children but as a recently retired policy wonk
    I know that training matters and is never more important than in the
    first year of school. Why would I send my child to a school where the
    kindergarten teacher has less training in child development than
    preschool teachers? Synergy is not a bilingual school and should not be
    compared to one but I was alarmed by the claim, made on my tour, that
    some children achieve fluency in Spanish at the end of middle school. I
    do not expect my son to be fluent in Spanish at age 13 but am troubled
    by the claim. No student at the school receives more than a couple of
    hours a week in Spanish instruction. It is not possible to be fluent
    after such a limited exposure, unless the child has other rich
    experiences. I cannot advise anyone on whether Synergy or a public
    school is best but some things at Synergy gave me pause. We will not apply there this year and are looking at many options, including some new and innovative school

  22. When you say "not a trained teacher", so you mean she doesn't have a CA teaching certificate, or she doesn't have a 4-year degree in education?

  23. How do you know this? The website doesn't say if teachers are credentialed or hold degrees.

  24. The interim teacher is the after school program director who has been teaching/directing the after school program and summer program since 1999.

  25. Actually that's not accurate. The kindergarten teacher is on sabbatical not maternity leave and the after school director is one of three kindergarten teachers in the classroom. She has more than 15 years experience working with children as the after school and summer director and long time substitute. She also has been trained in Making Math Real and has received other professional development. She knows the children well, most having been in the summer program this year. She's also a Synergy alumna and has deep understanding of the school philosophy and progressive education.