One amazing change maker that LASVP has gotten to know over the past few years is Meg Palisoc, co-founder and CEO of our Investee Synergy Academies. Find out more about Meg’s journey and how LASVP has helped along the way:
Public education is supposed to provide equal opportunity for all, but the low-performing, over-crowded, and under-resourced schools in low-income areas like South Los Angeles show that the reality falls short of the ideal.
How do we fix this problem? Many of us have donated to local schools, voted for pro-education policies, or maybe volunteered as tutors. Meg Palisoc and her husband Randy went much farther.
“We said, ‘We’re teachers who are passionate about what we’re doing. Let’s start our own school.’”
Meg started her career in the education field, but not in the elementary schools of South L.A. She worked in higher education administration, serving as the Director of Career Services at USC’s School of Engineering. In this position, Meg noticed that there were a limited number of women and minority students getting into engineering careers, especially those from the inner-city. She learned from her husband Randy, an elementary school teacher, that inner-city students were coming into school woefully underprepared, and that the schools were not meeting their needs.
Meg realized that she couldn’t remediate 13 years of bad education at the college level. Following in her husband’s footsteps, she said goodbye to her job at USC and became a third grade teacher in a South LA public school. She was shocked by what she found. “Even the kids who came from English-speaking families did not know how to write their first names correctly,” she says.
Meg and Randy knew that educational inequalities of this magnitude required a bigger solution. But as you might expect, starting a new charter school is no small task. They worked countless hours and even took out a line of credit on their home to start up Synergy Academies. “We had these very blunt conversations with each other and said, ‘Are we willing to risk everything, including our house, for the chance to try and do something pretty incredible in South LA?’ And we decided, yeah, we were.”
That leap of faith paid off. Synergy Academies now operates three schools that serve students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and their results are incredible. In a neighborhood where academic failure is endemic, Synergy students test in the top 10% statewide. That atmosphere of success is palpable on Synergy campuses. In some public school hallways, anarchy reigns and bullying runs rampant. But the “scholars,” as they are called at Synergy, seem, well, scholarly. They are well-behaved and focused on their work, eager to learn and willing to participate.
In 8 years, Synergy Academies has grown from 120 students to 1,100 students. The organization has expanded to meet the needs of the growing student body. In 2010, Synergy connected with LA Social Venture Partners. “LASVP came at a very good time in our organization’s history,” says Meg. “We had reached the point where we did need expertise and help to take us to the next level.”
In addition to providing capacity building grants, SVP provides hands-on help from Partners like Candy Deemer, who meets with Meg twice a month for 1-on-1 executive coaching sessions. “She’s been really instrumental in helping me grow as a leader,” says Meg. Other Partners provide help in areas like fund development, IT, and marketing. “Everybody’s so supportive. People want to see us succeed. We appreciate that. And I appreciate the honest feedback… I think it’s good to get that, because we do want to do what’s best for our kids.”
And that’s what all of Meg’s hard work and sacrifices come down to—trying to do what’s best for the kids at Synergy. Even when she’s attending the the administrative responsibilities that are inherent to her role as CEO, the students are first in her mind. Her secret to staying grounded? “I still consider myself a teacher first.”
If you want to learn more about Synergy, don’t miss their last “Trade Secrets” tour of the year on May 30th. Find out more and RSVP here.