Waipahu Graduate Runs ‘Best’ School
An elementary school in Los Angeles founded by a Waipahu High School graduate is gaining national attention with its recent distinction of being named the Best Urban Elementary School in America by the National Center for Urban School Transformation.
Randy Palisoc, who was born and raised in Kalihi and Waipahu, founded Synergy Charter Academy in 2004 with his wife, Meg, along with four other educators.
“There are a lot of great schools throughout America, so to be singled out as the best one was really a great honor for us,” Palisoc said.
The school earned this honor through its standardized test scores, which indicate that high percentages of the students are performing at or above grade level in math and reading (93 percent and 84 percent, respectively). The school also was evaluated based on observation visits made by the National Center for Urban School Transformation. The student body of Synergy Charter Academy is comprised mainly of low-income students; nearly 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
After graduating from Waipahu High School in 1992, Palisoc studied business at University of Southern California. Although he earned his bachelor’s degree in business, he later decided that teaching was his passion, and went on to teach third and fourth grade in Los Angeles. He also has since earned a master’s degree in education from University of California Los Angeles and recently graduated with a doctorate in education from USC.
“Working as classroom teachers, we saw the potential of students for how much they are able to achieve, but we just felt that the system wasn’t allowing them to be really successful,” explained Palisoc, who also attended August Ahrens Elementary School.
After launching Synergy Charter Academy, Palisoc founded affiliated middle and high schools. Ultimately, he intends to earn national rankings for all three schools.
“Our goal was to prove that kids could do better,” he said. “There are a lot of low-performing schools in L.A., especially in the inner city where a lot of the kids come from poverty. We wanted to challenge the system and see if we can push the kids to achieve on a higher level … We wanted to show (people) that if you can provide (kids) with a good school and with good teachers and good instruction, that any kid can be successful no matter what their background.
“We make sure kids have a solid foundation,” he said. “That way, no matter what they decide to pursue in the future, they have a solid academic foundation.”
Palisoc knows first-hand the struggles that low-income students face. His parents immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines shortly before he was born. His family was not wealthy, but they instilled a strong work ethic in him – a mentality that he credits for his successes.
“My parents taught me that if you do well in school, you will be able to have a better life for yourself. So they were constantly pushing me to do well in school.
“That message that my parents taught me is the same message that I try to give the kids at our school,” recalled Palisoc, adding that his family still lives in Waipahu.
While the national distinction and high test scores are certainly something to take note of, for Palisoc, the real power of Synergy can be found in the impact that it has on individual students.
He recalled one success story from a few years ago: When one student entered Synergy as a sixth-grader, her academic abilities were far below grade level. Palisoc and other instructors worked with her one-onone to try to bring her up to speed.
These days, the student is on the honor roll at her high school and earned a scholarship to participate in a business leadership program for the summer.
Palisoc hopes to spread Synergy’s success to other schools. Next year, he will be leaving the school to launch an educational consulting business.
“I want to take the curriculum that we use at the school,” he said, “and make that available to help out other schools as well.”