Maybe that's really the bottom line. A school is a huge thing to review, but I recall my attempt to penetrate all the reviews and directories when we were trying to pick out schools, so maybe I can offer just a little bit of inside info for parents who are obsessing about the right place for their kids. My kid went to SAAS for all 4 years of high school. I'm attempting anonymity here, so I'm just going to refer to the child in question as "Z". We received a considerable amount of financial aid, or it wouldn't have been possible. My impression was that SAAS has a bit less money than Northwest, and certainly less than Lakeside, to hand out for financial aid -- but we were relatively low-income and Z was a good enough student that they were extremely generous. We still paid about 3000 dollars a year, but that meant that we were getting a scholarship for the other 14,000 dollars per year! These prices are embarrassing, because most families even in upscale Seattle can't imagine paying money like this just for high school, and it's weird to be in an environment surrounded by people who don't think this is embarrassing or even out of the ordinary. I never quite came to terms with that, in all the parent meetings and performances and so on. I would look around and wonder what was going on in these people's minds.
However, when we went to visit schools, when Z was still in 8th grade at a public school, we noticed that the SAAS kids seemed HAPPY. None of the other private schools we visited had this quality. And in the 4 years that followed, I'd say that was an accurate perception. The students do honestly feel a genuine fondness for the place, and for each other. SAAS is a mixed bag, but a school takes a lot of its flavor from the director, and Jean Orvis is an honest, intelligent, caring, idealistic human being.
Now, SAAS has a few stunningly stinky teachers, who appear to draw salaries just for breathing. It also has a few lifelong inspiring ones, whom the students adore and come back to visit and for whom the students rise to absolutely breakthrough levels of production. And it has a lot of good, bright, conscientious ones who fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe this is true of all schools, but I was kind of shocked to discover that bad teachers still get hired by places that charge this much money. If your kid gets one of the lemons, all I can suggest is make noise. It has limited effect in the short term, but eventually enough complaints will result in the person being fired.
One of the greatest virtues of SAAS is that a kid interested in an extracurricular activity will be invited to do it. Period. And furthermore, even if they truly aren't very good at the activity, the other kids will wholeheartedly cheer for them. If they want to sing, they can be in one of the vocal groups. If they want to play a sport, they can be on a team. If they want to act, they'll get a part in any play they audition for. This open door, and the generous reception they can rely on from other students, gives kids the courage to try something they would never even contemplate in a bigger school. It actually does lead to something like what the school likes to hype when it talks about building confidence.
The academics are solid, and the honors classes are mostly really high level. Extracurricular commitments can collide with homework and you'll see your kid staying up til 3 am sometimes, trying to finish a project, after getting home from singing in a concert til midnight. And then being too sick and exhausted to go to school the next day, but having a total stressed-out meltdown until you agree to drive the completed paper to the school so it won't be late.
The college counseling is supportive and steady, although the parent still has to make sure all the deadlines are met. There's drinking and drugs and sex, like there is anywhere, although the school does its best to pretend to potential applicants that this doesn't happen at SAAS. Among the private schools, the kids say that SAAS is known as the "druggie school". However, I didn't get the impression that it's a pervasive school culture. Most of these kids have better things to do with most of their time, or at least they keep their illicit activities relatively discreet, so the scandals are intermittent. Again, it comes down partly to a social class thing: the kids who attend SAAS have parents who keep track of them, and who won't let them go too far over the edge without intervening.
So, yes, it's a good education. So are Garfield and Roosevelt. But a big part of what you're buying with your tuition money is a peer group for your child. A peer group which almost universally expects to successfully complete high school and go to a good college and graduate. A peer group which is actually pretty gentle and kind, if only because they've mostly grown up sheltered from hardship.
There's too much to write. But if you can afford it, and if your kid is accepted, you could certainly do worse. Your kid will likely end up feeling like high school was a pretty fun time in their life.