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Share your Synergy memories - an anecdote, an experience, a funny story, or how Synergy has shaped your life.

Share Your Story


The Kitses Family

Why do I give to Synergy? Where to start?

Flash back to 1997… “Whhhiirrrrrrr” went the blender of the smoothie I was mixing up. Fruit, ice, and all sorts liquefying—I never thought after graduation from UC Santa Cruz, I would be working as a blender jockey in a juice bar.

One morning, I dropped off my younger sister, Anastasia, at Synergy School on Grove Street. I climbed those 26 steps and entered the orange house where I was met with warm energy, smiles, nods, and a chance to volunteer in the Rooftop Room with Sandy. Soon, I became Tammy and Elena’s assistant, while Synergy supported me to work on my teaching credential at nights. And now I’m a teacher in the Sun Room on Valencia Street and it’s 2018.

Why do I give? Synergy gave me an opportunity to grow, prosper, and learn how to be a teacher. A diverse, fun community of people—children, parents, and teachers, who give back in so many ways, embraced me. It’s not often that you have a job where you truly look forward to seeing the folks you share the same carpet and linoleum with on a daily basis; a place where you often teach and nurture your colleagues’ children; a place that gives back…. I’ve made friends for life here. Friends and colleagues who respect and honor differences, who look you in the eye.

Last week my 5 1/2 year old daughter, Audrey, was talking about how much she likes making smoothies. This reminded me of those months after college. I’m not a huge smoothie person, but the concept of a great place where partial elements mix together to create a healthy, supportive, satisfying experience really rings true. I give to Synergy because it has always given back to me.


Jesse Kitses, Sun Room Teacher, Jasmine, Audrey, Class of 2026, and Olive


The Faro-White Family

Our oldest son, Julian, was in the first class at this building – and our twins, Ro and Gabe, graduated three years ago. Synergy was part of our family for 15 great years.

Just a few weeks ago, Gabe and I were driving by Synergy. I commented, like I probably have many times before, that his older brother and I helped plant that redwood in the soft yard. Then he responded thoughtfully, “You know, dad, Synergy really was a great school. Overall my experience there was awesome.” For those that know Gabe, he is not given to hyperbole. He meant it. I suspect because he is old enough now to realize what a special place it holds in his life and our lives. And he is right. For that our family is very grateful.

I had the honor of serving on the Board with Russ, Katherine and Jill (our co-founders) for many years. I think it’s important to recognize how fortunate the Board and the school are to have the founders’ voice and experience for all of this time. Their vision of a co-op that could embrace the ideals of progressive education and empower teachers, children, and families within a community still informs the school to this day. Russ, I am so glad that you had the courage, naiveté, and gumption years ago to call Katherine and Jill and say, “Hey, I bought a building, we’re starting our school.”

And look what happened. Synergy was a “disruptive startup” long before any of us knew what that meant. And for that my family is grateful. As I’m sure many of the current and alum parents and students are as well.

The truth is it’s challenging right now being a parent. I find myself being concerned about the state of the world and what the future may hold for our children. But if there is any place that can prepare them for what lies ahead, it’s Synergy. I would say to all the current and alum teachers and staff – I hope you know what an important role this remarkable school holds for the future. Because every day the kids here, past and present, have received large doses of the antidote for all the craziness in the world. They understand that the antidote to divisiveness is unity through diversity. They understand that the antidote to despair is hope. They understand that the antidote to hate is love. And for that we are all profoundly grateful.

Kevin White, Alumni Parent, Annamarie Faro-White, Julian, Class of 2008, and Roland & Gabriel, Class of 2014


The Kessler Family

When our son, Clint, was in 3rd grade, we realized that we were looking for an alternate education for the upper grades. We had heard about Synergy from our preschool alumni and after our first visit we knew without question that it was the school for us.

Changing schools can be hard on a kid, but with such a welcoming community, from day one it felt right. So right, this poem came home within the first month:

"The first time I saw a balloon I thought, what the heck is that?
The first time I wrote no one could read it.
The first time I saw the Eastender's I knew it was the place for me."

Five years later, we are getting ready to say goodbye.  Along the way we have continued to enjoy the strong sense of community, marveled at the passionate teachers and watched amazed as the kids grew to become the unique individuals they are today, ready and confident for high school.  Every child and parent leaves Synergy with the fundamental principle of what is means to be a good person. Something that is truly invaluable for all of us.

Thanks to Synergy, the three of us are ready for the next chapter, leaving stronger than when we arrived, with some great memories and lasting friendships.

Julie, Dirk, and Clint Kessler, Class of 2018
The Altieri Family

It was February 2013 and there I was at the corner of 25th and Valencia with a box full of historical artifacts heading into Synergy for the first time. I was about to present a lesson on primary sources for my practice teach lesson to a middle school history class.

From the moment I walked into the building, through teaching the lesson, the six-person initial job interview, and Jesse walking me to the door afterward, I had a special feeling. As I walked back to my car, antiques clanking around in my box, I put a name to that feeling.

From the first moment I walked into Synergy that day, I felt like I was coming home, only to a home I have never known. As I walked the halls I could not only see myself as a teacher at this school, but a member of the school community as a whole. While my son, Isaac Zinn, was only 2 and my daughter, Noa Bell, was only 6 months old, I could see them playing on the soft yard and climbing to the tops of those trees.

At Synergy I saw people that looked like us as a family. I saw others that looked unlike us as a family. I saw diversity. I saw teachers that embraced students as a second family, and students that looked back at teachers in that same light.

The decision to accept the teaching position at Synergy was not a decision at all. Rarely does a moment present itself so clearly in your life. I talk to my students about moments. I often say... "You know... Moments... Like you see in the movies... We are having one of those moments..."

Coming to Synergy was one of those moments. I am now in my 5th year and when I look out my history classroom window, I see Isaac Zinn running through the soft yard and Noa Bell at the top of a plum tree, I know that we are in that space. We are home. Only now at a home we know, we care about, and we love.

It is not about attending or working at a school. It is about being part of a community.

Dominic Altieri, Middle School History Teacher & Parent,
Isaac Zinn, Class of 2025, and Noa Bell, Class of 2027


The Dunlop Family

Synergy was our first school experience. Our eldest son, Tristan, graduated from there in 2014 and I still recall the bewildering array of choices we were faced with at the time. Do we choose a public, charter, parochial, international or regular old private school for him? In hindsight, I’m not sure if Synergy fits well into any of these categories. It’s quite unique.

Tristan is and never has been the most vocal child in class. This is an established fact. I still recall Carolyn pulling us aside in the Star Room and sharing a story about Tristan asking her for help. She was so surprised to hear him ask for her assistance, she immediately gave him her full attention and offered up a series of practical solutions until Tristan politely said that he was done with her now and walked off. He just wanted someone to hear him out.

Tristan graduated from Synergy with a great education and got into a wonderful high school school, where even now, because he’s graded on class participation, we still hear from his teachers about this. But this is who he is. A cheerful, self confident, quiet young adult. A different school than Synergy could very well have turned him into an insecure, sullen, introvert. Patty and I credit Synergy for that. Everything about it, from its size and its people, to its culture and its mission are engineered to benefit the whole child. What else could you ask for?

Synergy, we thank you. Join us in giving to the Annual Fund.

Ronan & Patty Dunlop, and Tristan, Class of 2014
The Crawford-Mead Family

This is our last year with a Synergy student. Our youngest son, Nikolai, is an 8th grader. Sasha, his older brother, graduated in 2013. It has been a fruitful 14 years, and although I know we will all stay connected to the school, it will be an end of an era for the Mead-Crawford’s.This holiday season I am so thankful for all that the Synergy community has brought to our lives.

It was my husband who came home from the initial visit saying, “I think this is the place for Sasha.” Our four-and-a-half year old boy was small, quiet and compliant—as Jana would later say, “still waters run deep”—and I feared he would get lost in the shuffle elsewhere. Synergy felt like a place where he could find his voice and strengths. When our "Cossack" was ready for school, he was welcomed with such warmth and particular care to allow him to carve his own path. I am so grateful to the school, staff and community, for the deep understanding of my kids and for having created and developed such a unique learning environment. A place where they are known and can flourish academically, socially, artistically and as citizens of this planet in peril. Synergy has truly been an oasis, a constant; a guiding force for all of us.

We wanted a school, where we knew our boys would cultivate a life-long love of learning, and where we could contribute—using our strengths—confident that the fundamentals were more than covered. Both boys have played sports, run bake sales, sang, acted, participated in many moving communal projects and adored the outdoor-ed program. Farm School, Harvest Day, the Snow Trips, Costa Rica…these are some of our fondest memories at Synergy. These unusual outdoor adventures were one of the most appealing elements of the curriculum and dovetailed so perfectly with our parenting ethos. Our boys continue to work at Synergy Summer and Tech Camp and stay involved in many ways. Involvement has been a pleasure and enriching for us as parents as well. Douglas has taught electives and helped design an earlier website iteration and I have taught cross-country skiing, yoga, volunteered in the classroom, baked and now am member of the Board.

As Sasha moved on to Lowell High School and UC Santa Cruz and Niko embarks on the high school search, I am confident my sons will make their way in this world with strength, compassion and a strong sense of self and community. Working in tandem with the school, I deeply believe they are not only well prepared for the future, but I also know they will always carry some of Synergy’s special sauce with them wherever life may lead.

In the following years, I will miss the Synergy day-to-day, confident that we will all stay connected to this wonderful institution.

Darya Mead, Douglas Crawford, Sasha, Class of 2013, and Nikolai, Class of 2018
Tammy Damon

When I moved to San Francisco in 1976 with an MA in Education through the Teacher Corps and 5 years experience, the school district was laying off teachers with less than 10 years experience. After two years of substitute teaching, I reluctantly gave up my commitment to public schools and on a tip from a friend, went for an interview at Synergy, then a small, progressive school looking to expand. By the end of the interview process, followed by an all day field trip to the Oakland Zoo, I knew Synergy would be the perfect place for me.

Synergy co-founder, Katherine Czesak, was starting graduate school and would be working half time so I was offered a half time position. I didn’t hesitate for a second to become a part of this school where learning was exciting as well as fun and clearly happened everywhere — in the tiny building, on the streets, at the beach, in museums, and the great outdoors for day trips, camping and in the snow. This was my kind of place and I was interested and willing to do anything, from taking on the responsibility for the finances, which was one part of Katherine’s administrative job packet, doing her share of lunch duty which involved a hike up the hill to Douglass Park, to raising money by working street fairs and working the roulette wheel at our casino night. It was non-stop learning and I was thriving.

During my first 10 years, many inspired teachers, including the three co-founders, enriched Synergy before moving on to other careers. I was often asked when I would leave. Finally I made it clear — teaching at Synergy would be my career, a place to grow, challenge and nurture myself and the vision Russ, Katherine and Jill had.

Synergy has been everything I dreamed of and more. I realized right away that the cooperative structure created an environment that brought out the best in everyone, promoting dedication, inspiration, creativity and responsibility to each other, our students and families. While I was learning how to challenge and encourage my students, Synergy was encouraging me to grow and challenge myself in every arena.

After 35 wonderful years, I am now retired but not gone. I am on the Board and a number of committees, and enjoy going to a variety of Synergy events and seeing students, staff and parents. I will always support Synergy with donations to the Annual Fund and more.

Tammy Damon, Synergy Board Trustee, former administrator & teacher
The Durrant-Haken Family

From the minute Piers and I stepped into the building, we felt the difference. We couldn’t say exactly what it was, but we felt it then and still do.

We feel the difference in the way the community is so strong. It feels like family. We love that many of the staff have worked together for years. We love the age range, from kinder to eighth grade. We love that there are staff who were students at the school.

We feel the difference in the way the curriculum is taught. Our son is engaged. He can’t wait to get to school, talks about what he’s learning, and even likes to do his homework. We feel the difference in the way the teachers and staff work with the student when mistakes are made. There are clear rules and agreements, so it provides a valuable learning opportunity. And, in this safe environment, Daniel wants to try things he’s never tried before.

After being at the school for a year now, I think we’ve discovered what it is: it’s a commitment to providing a rich learning environment for students and a shared feeling of genuine love for the community within.

We can’t think of a better place for our singleton to be during his tween and teen years.

Jennifer Durrant, Piers Haken, and Daniel, Class of 2020


Co-Founder Russ Messing

Editor’s note: Russ Messing is one of three founders of Synergy School. He was honored in October 2017 at a community gathering for his 45 years of service and support of the school.

It is a sunny Saturday morning, the olives are almost all picked and it is the largest harvest we have ever had! (I have no idea how or where I will sell all the oil!) There are bird feathers on the mat outside the library door (the feral cat at work), I have a respite from going to the Farmers Market because the pick-up is loaded with more olives to take to the mill on Monday, and Arlene is off at a meditation retreat getting even more grounded. My tea is cold. Alone and quiet I am taking the moment to once again be with the joy and love and caring from my "good-bye" celebration and honoring.

I want to thank you all for the joyous event last month. Know how deep my gratitude sits in my heart, it is fairly astounding that all those many years ago the three of us not only had the vision, but the divine innocence to create Synergy. Look how it has prospered, has grown, has affected so many!

Katherine, Jill, and I had an idea and worked hard and had some good fortune. And, more than that, Synergy is what it is because of all of us/all of you/all who have given our years, our faith, our sweat, our smarts, our expertise, and our individual and collective visions to making something excellent and enduring. Bravo to all of us. We were/are all parts, and, yes, the whole is greater.

So, thanks to all of you who visioned, planned, rehearsed, and pulled off such a joyous and heartfelt honoring of me and, more, a celebration of the vision and the heart of Synergy. Watch the video

I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I felt so honored! Synergy is blessed.

In beauty,

Russ Messing, co-founder and Synergy School Trustee Emeritus
The Rodriguez Family

As a public school kid, I had a certain perception of private schools and I thought that I would never have my kids attend an uppity institution like a private school. I was staunch and close-minded in this regard because of my perceptions of these institutions. I wanted my children to be educated and not indoctrinated.

In 2003, one of my clients recommended that I check out a progressive teacher cooperative called Synergy School. Her daughter was a student there. I politely heard her suggestion and automatically dismissed it. Serendipitously, my wife's colleague at the time recommended she check out the school his son was attending – Synergy School.

Intrigue set in and we attended a tour. As we exited the building and sat in our car, I asked Teresa, "What do you think?"

She asked me, "I don’t know… What do you think?"

"I can't explain it.... that vibe in there though.... if feels good."

"Yes, there is a good vibe there."

We give to Synergy School to preserve that vibe, especially the cooperative structure, the mission, and the spirit that the school was founded on. I hope that vibe endures because we need it as a community. Our family is beholden to Synergy School for all that the cooperative has given us.

Synergy School amended my paradigm of private schools. It reinforces that the difference between education and indoctrination is diversity; diversity of thought, perspectives, people, music, art, languages, food, and dance. That vibe at Synergy – it educates and transforms us. Give to the Annual Fund and let’s keep that vibe resonating.

Carlos & Teresa Rodriguez, Nayeli, Class of 2018, and Ladislao, Class of 2012


The Cross Family

One of the first affirmations I had that Synergy was the right choice for our family was in mid-October of Vivian’s kindergarten year, when she entered the kitchen one morning dressed from head to toe in wild mismatched stripes. I smiled and commented on what a fun outfit she picked. Then, I started to worry about my little kindergartener at this new, big school (with teenagers!). Are they going to laugh at her?

“Maybe it’s a little too much fun for an outfit?” I asked. Then, more timidly, “Do you think someone might, you know, tease you?” She gave me a look.
“No, Mommy, there is no teasing allowed at Synergy.”

Now she is in 6th grade, and I am amazed at how middle school students at Synergy, while indeed teenagers, maintain a high level of respect for themselves and each other. I am not saying it’s perfect; all children must navigate challenges. But as they turn towards adulthood the support is there for them to build confidence, explore differences, and learn to know themselves.

With a younger brother, Vivian experiences (and dishes out) her share of teasing. When she heads off to high school and the world beyond, there will be bumps and hurdles. However, I am confident she will stay true to herself, because at the core of her psyche that wild stripy girl will always be in a safe space. Thank you, Synergy.

Katie & Jeff Cross, Vivian, Class of 2020, and Jasper, Class of 2023
Joan Pettijohn

In my last year at Synergy after a 30-year relationship, I have many emotions including some grief and a lot of excitement for the future. The feeling that resonates strongest for me this year is gratitude. Synergy School has given me a wealth of tangible and not so concrete gifts.
My daughter attended the Grove Street version of Synergy and I firmly believe that much of her self-assurance, organization and compassion for others in her work as a public defender were gained at Synergy. She is a brilliant activist with integrity and a strong sense of ethics. As a single mom, Synergy was the village that helped raise her. When she began her kindergarten year, I was studying to be a teacher and receiving welfare. A generous scholarship made her attendance possible.

I began teaching in the K/1 class the following year and again received so much. My house came to me from a former Synergy family and I have lived in Bernal Heights for years now. This is yet another gift that I am grateful for. The Synergy community is like an extended family that crosses over many years and locations.
Personally, Synergy has given me the opportunity to work with kids in a positive, loving and exciting way. I doubt that I could have been as effective as a teacher anywhere else. Being on the Board and on many committees, has taught me leadership and communication skills. Synergy is about growth and change and my personal growth is the thing I am most grateful for.
I give to the Annual Fund because it is my way of giving back to a place that has done so much for me.

Joan Pettijohn, Synergy Teacher and Alumni Parent


The Firman Family

We didn’t have an early reader. Our kindergartener was just more interested in his dance moves and the magical stories that played out in his head. First grade rolled around, and we watched as the other kids in the class sounded out their words and delighted in books. “Don’t worry,” they told us, “it will come. Everyone has their own timetable.”

The new year came and went. Winter passed. Should we be worried? “Trust us,” the teachers said. And then it hit. Boy did it ever hit! The light came on and the words lit up. We started hearing from teachers that it became impossible to tear Baxter away from his books. He was reading on buses and trains, in restaurants and at Giants games. Within months he had leapt a couple of grade levels.

While our friends at other schools were frenetically practicing sight word flashcards in kindergarten, our teachers were playing a longer game. The love of books, the smile you see here, this is what progressive education looks like. This is why we give.

Amy, John, and Baxter, Class of 2023
Max Goldberg, Class of 2009

In first grade I was reading fluently, but rarely pronounced new words correctly. It turned out that, instead of sounding out new words, I was memorizing the pronunciations one-by-one. Tanya Baker, my first grade teacher, didn't stop the way I was learning. Instead, after mentioning it to my parents, she helped me learn my way, making sure that I stayed on track.
Evidently, I learned how to read. While my method of learning might have made English a little more difficult, it made Chinese, which I'd learn later on, far easier. If Tanya had forced me to learn "her way" instead of helping me cultivate my own, I might never have developed the skills and personal qualities that I treasure today.

Tanya's willingness to support me through my own learning experience was emblematic of my time at Synergy. Synergy is purposefully designed to generate a community of creative individuals, bound together by a universalizing sense of mutual respect and curiosity for those around us. This lack of a prepackaged "Synergy experience" says a lot about the care Synergy's teachers and administrators take to provide us with the opportunity to grow into whoever we want to be, rather than to ask us conform to some established standard or predetermined vision.

Matthew Beyer, Class of 2011

When I look back on my experiences and education at Synergy, I think about my teachers and the strong sense of community. Whether we were building volcanoes with Jesse or bridges with Rea or creating our own cultures with Tammy and Elena at farm school, my teachers always cared about me as an individual. They encouraged me, taught me to think critically, and fostered my interest in environmental sustainability.

I'm currently a double major in political science and environmental science at UC Santa Barbara with a significant interest in American politics and policy, my intended field of focus. My long-term academic goal is to attend law school and to focus on environmental law and policy making.

In addition to my academics, I gained experience last summer conducting research for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and for former San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty. My work with Bevan led to a position as his campaign coordinator as he launched his successful bid for the District 9 seat on the BART Board of Directors. This summer, I interned at the Sierra Club.

I’m grateful for my Synergy experience and for my teachers who helped me find my voice and my passion.

Matthew Beyer, Class of 2011