Synergy Charter Academy
The challenge: How to eliminate the achievement gap
Founded in 2004, Synergy--which accepts students from kindergarten through fifth grade--has done amazing work with children that have traditionally been among the lowest academic performers in California. Synergy was opened with two primary goals in mind--to eliminate the achievement gap in a historically disadvantaged location and to empower students so that the acceptance into a four-year college is well within their grasp.
The solution: A school community successfully responding to students' needs
Thanks to the flexible structure that charter schools enjoy, Synergy has created an environment where teachers are empowered to make decisions to advance a student's academic progress. Teachers utilize a rigorous curriculum that is designed to promote a college preparatory environment and get students accustomed to challenging work. In addition to topics such as language arts and mathematics, the teachers promote subjects that are often de-emphasized in schools such as science, history, arts, and physical education.
Synergy's teachers exhibit a responsiveness that is a staple in the charter school movement--allowing them to quickly address and correct any weaknesses that students have. They accomplish this though data-driven practices where they regularly monitor the progress of the class, as well as each student, in order to determine how the class is progressing and in what ways they can alter their teaching methods to address problems.
Like all charter schools, Synergy operates as a mission-driven organization. Synergy's vision of college admission sets high expectations and helps the school community focus on meeting clear goals to close the achievement gap. Strong communication is key to Synergy's success maintaining a culture of high expectations. Open communication begins with the school's leadership. The board of directors prides itself on integrity and transparency, holding monthly meetings informing the community of the school's progress. Administrators and teachers openly discuss their concerns to improve on weaknesses and build on strengths in an environment where every voice is respected. And, staff keeps parents apprised of their children's progress through family meetings.
The results: Students outperform their public school counterparts
Some of the lowest-scoring students in California soon became some of the state's highest performers, testing well above their public school counterparts--including children in more affluent areas.
In the four years since its inception, the successes that Synergy has celebrated are nothing short of amazing, including the following:
- Attendance rate of 99%.
- By the end of its first year, the school was the highest performer in the 90011 zip code with an API of 709
- By Synergy's second year, it had become the highest performing school in all of South Los Angeles with an API of 811.
- By the school's fourth year, it had achieved an API of 846, which has put it in the top fifteen percent of schools throughout California. This also means that Synergy's African American and Latino students have outperformed their Caucasian counterparts in elementary schools statewide.
- Synergy was named the National Charter School of the Year by the Center for Education Reform and the California Charter Schools Association School of the Year.
In 2010, Synergy Charter Academy had an Academic Performance Index (API) of 897, an increase of 51 points over three years.
On CCSA's Similar Students Measure, which assesses school performance while filtering out many of the non-school effects on student achievement through the use of regression-based predictive modeling, the school performed significantly over their prediction over a period of three years. The SSM is one element of CCSA's performance framework, which also includes measures of rigor (in the form of a school's API score) and momentum (by considering growth in API over a three-year period). By combining the pattern of a three-year cycle using current API, cumulative growth, and predicted performance, the framework provides a more comprehensive performance management construct to assess school progress. This progress is divided into four quadrants: high status-high growth; high status-low growth; low status-high growth; and low status-low growth. Synergy occupies the "high status-high growth" quadrant.
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