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SAAS At Year 40

Message from Rob Phillips, Head of School:

Welcome to Year 40

On October 12, 1983, seventy students walked into the school that was then named Seattle Academy, and that today we know as SAAS. That first day of classes was like the curtain parting and the lights coming up on what would be a yearlong “Opening Night.”

A small group of parents who would become the founding board leadership had decided in August of 1983 to launch a school in the face of a long list of risks and obstacles. Despite the many reasons not to go for it, they jumped into the challenge with determination, creativity and a shared sense of purpose.

Why? Because they firmly believed, in the words of the writer Jim Collins, in their unique opportunity to “create something that doesn’t yet exist but ought to.”

Imagine the challenges they faced between mid-August and the day they opened the doors on October 12th: form a board; articulate the mission and write bylaws; hire a head of school who could find, hire, lead and inspire teachers; convince parents and students to sign up for a vision absent much to back it up. And after dealing with all of those seemingly insurmountable obstacles, they had to find a building to have classes in. Fortunately for SAAS, Temple De Hirsch Sinai was a willing partner and the doors to the classrooms in the Temple were available for those first students and teachers.

In writing that first chapter of the SAAS story, they relied on an entrepreneurial optimism that integrates curiosity and competence, hope and resolve, collaboration and independence. And in that first year, I believe they successfully wove those traits into the fabric of the SAAS values and identity.

As we emerge from a collective three years of uncertainty and disruption, this is a uniquely apt time to celebrate what will be our 40th graduating class and to remember that we, as a SAAS community, have navigated times like these before.

But as we reflect on the lessons of that first year, it’s important to recognize the tendency in hindsight to celebrate their successes but miss the corresponding reality that building community, whether in Year 1 or Year 40, is as demanding as it is meaningful.

It’s a little like a climb to a mountaintop that leaves us remembering the view from the summit but not what it takes to get there: the strain of pack straps against the shoulders, tired legs as the steps pile up, and frayed nerves when the trail grows narrow amidst steep drop-offs.

We can also appreciate the ups and downs of the climb — that’s a part of our story too. In ways that we’re still struggling to comprehend, the last three years have shaped our lives, our relationships with the world, and our sense of the future. We have become familiar if not acclimated to disruption, uncertainty and adversity.

The climb has been steep.

Given what we’re coming out of, we’re in many ways starting a new school, as well. The task before us requires building new muscle memory for what it means to be together.  

Year 1 of the SAAS story was one of discovery, optimism and growth. It required an audacious vision complemented by a commitment to action, and it instilled into the SAAS DNA a sense of possibility and promise that we continue to live out to this day.

And in that turbulent first year, a SAAS identity was forged in the unique, powerful and creative potential in all of our kids, not just those who others want to separate out as capable, smart, or gifted.

That identity is as relevant in Year 40 as it was in Year 1. 

Now, as then, we nurture relationships between kids and adults, the classroom and the world, ideas and action.  

Now, as then, we’ll move forward together even when that means moving uphill in difficult terrain.

Now, as then, we’re opening doors to the future.

Now, as then, we have an unwavering commitment to be a “dynamic community that challenges students to question, imagine and create in order to contribute boldly to a changing world.”

Now, as then, we’re writing the next chapter of the story.

And now, as then, we are on a journey together to create a school that doesn’t yet exist but should.


Rob Phillips

Head of School