About Us | History
Seattle Academy was founded in 1983 by a courageous group of trustees, faculty, and parents who were inspired to start a new school designed to provide a program to prepare students for college and life. Over 30 years, the school has grown exponentially from our founding enrollment of 72 students, and the characteristics forged during the school’s start-up years are evident in our innovative faculty, dynamic program, and Culture of Performance.
Since our school’s founding, the primary academic program was located in leased classroom space at Temple de Hirsch Sinai. As the school programs and student body grew, satellite campus locations were leased, including the original Temple Building, two warehouse spaces for arts and physical education, and numerous fields and gyms throughout the city of Seattle.
In the 1990s, it became increasingly clear that the school’s physical campus would be central to securing Seattle Academy’s future. In 1998, the school acquired the Vanderbilt Building along with additional nearby properties on the 12th Avenue block.
Since securing permanent space and the relocation of the Upper School program from the Temple Building to the Vanderbilt Building, the Upper School has produced five NAIS “Teachers of the Future,” expanded course offerings to include such things as Sustainability, Fundamentals of Engineering, Software Development, and Mandarin Chinese. Additionally the Senior Project Internship was launched as a capstone program and new outdoor and travel opportunities in northern Canada, Alaska, New Orleans, India, China, Turkey, and Zambia have been developed. The Speech and Debate program has grown significantly. Now, the Department of Rhetoric includes Mock Trial, Model UN, and the eight-time state champion Speech and Debate Team.
As SAAS grew, it became clear that we needed to expand our permanent home through a capital campaign, Seattle Academy’s first. The successful campaign created the Arts Center, which opened in the fall of 2001, and the Gym, which opened in the fall of 2002. The Arts Center and Gym encompass critical SAAS programs and have incubated enormous achievements.
Since opening the doors of the Arts Center, new courses as diverse as metal sculpture, two vocal jazz ensembles, five levels of instrumental music, and advanced acting, dance and film have been added to the curriculum. The Arts Department was named The Outstanding Arts Program in the Nation in 2011 by a major educational organization. Individual students and ensembles have won recognition time and again in venues as varied as the Reno Jazz Festival, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, the Seattle Improvisational Theatre Open Competition, and the Washington State Congressional Art Competition. The 2012-13 school year was capped with the ArtsEd Washington recognizing Seattle Academy with its 2013 Excellence in Arts Education Award.
Prior to opening the Gym in the Fall of 2002, no Seattle Academy athletic team had ever won a state championship. Since completion of the Gym, Seattle Academy has won four championships in girls’ soccer as well as state championships in track and field, cross country, and ultimate Frisbee. SAAS now fields over 50 teams in eight sports; more than 75% of students participate in an after-school sport.
Following the campus expansion, the internal workings of the school were reexamined assuring that curricular and co-curricular programs were integrated and cohesive, that systems were in place to support the larger body of the school, and that our community continued to be developed and nurtured. The SAAS programs were stronger than ever and the guiding principles of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity thrived.
In 2003, we launched the Prep for Life campaign to increase socio-economic and cultural diversity in our student body, as well as strengthen the Learning Support Program. Seattle Academy launched an effort to build a robust Financial Aid Endowment with the Sustaining SAAS campaign in 2006. Despite the faltering economy, our community successfully raised $7 million which qualified us to receive an additional $1 million matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2007, a broad cross section of the school community met once again to review and identify the school’s top priorities. It was critical that SAAS maintain its unique culture while developing new programs, garnering endowment resources, and expanding the campus. In early 2008, Seattle Academy developed a Master Facilities Plan to provide guidance regarding decisions for future design and development of the school’s campus.
The next major chapter in fulfilling our Master Facilities Plan began in 2015 when we opened our STREAM Building (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, Math). The building houses six 1200-square-foot labs for all Upper School science classes (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, electives); a dedicated Robotics makerspace and competition area; and a two-level Learning Commons. The STREAM Building was designed to exceed LEED Gold standards, with solar technology and an award-winning rainwater collection and re-use system, among other things. Finally, students in Seattle Academy’s “Sustainability” science elective course contributed key design suggestions that were incorporated by the architects and are present as features of the completed building!
As we celebrate 33 years since our founding, Seattle Academy is a vibrant community of more than 700 students and 145 dedicated faculty and staff. Our students are as bright, diverse, and intrepid as ever, and our faculty and staff bring an impressive level of subject mastery and a broad range of life experience to their work. Our Culture of Performance continues to define our dynamic college-preparatory curriculum, and programs in our four key areas of academics, arts, athletics, and outdoor/trips programs continue to garner state, regional, national, and international recognition.