Traditional US public education systems were developed in the mid-1800's, and by the 1880's were prevalent across the country. Designed and perfected during the peak of the Industrial Revolution, it was a system that worked well in the time of factories and the very beginning of mass electricity usage. In the 150+ years since this system was first implemented, a lot has happened. We've moved from horse-drawn carriages to locomotives, then automobiles powered by internal combustion engines, and now even electric cars and trucks. We've seen the very first flying machines, then mass commercial aviation, and now space travel. Two history-changing world wards were fought, not to mention the development of mass agriculture, nuclear power, the interstate highway system, the internet - the list goes on and on. And yet, the structure of how we educate children has changed remarkably little. At Pathfinders, we believe it's time to bring the education of children into the 21st century.
Our co-founders had very different experiences with traditional public education, but both grew up, looked back, and realized something needed to change. When they started their own family, the decision of how to educate their own children weighed heavily upon them. They looked at private schools, charter schools, home schooling, literally every option they could think of. The problem is that even most of the "alternative" options they researched used a pretty similar traditional method. The pressure mounted on them as their children got older until one day, by pure chance, they were referred to Acton Academy. Like a bolt of lightning out of the blue, they were energized and invigorated by what they found. Not just an idea, but a whole system and toolkit for opening a school that is designed for learners to find their unique gifts and calling to change the world. As local small business owners, the idea of opening their location was daunting but doable. They applied right away to begin the Acton audition process and within five weeks they had been approved. The rest, as they say, is history. A history we are writing new every day.
Located just off the main intersection in north Sammamish, Pathfinders is conveniently located and easy to find. The campus is being hosted by Regeneration Church and their pastor Alan Johnson. We've had great conversations and connection with Alan, explaining that Pathfinders is a not a religious school and that we welcome learners from all faiths and walks of life. He was enthusiastic and supportive from the beginning, working to understand the vision of Acton and what we are creating. We knew we had found the right partner when he told us our learners could use the facility to the fullest because "God loves play." The building has several unused classrooms and tons of play space, including a huge grass field, wood playground structure, and many nearby walking trails. While it likely won't be our forever home, we are every excited to begin our journey here.
Chris and Christine come from far corners of the US, Chris in the northeast and Christine in the southwest. One day, after they had each already moved to Seattle, fate found them catching a flight back from Phoenix to Seattle. Christine had an ornate hand drum draped over her shoulder, and Chris played hand drums - the conversation started easily enough. Pretty soon thereafter they were off on adventures together, from the Olympic rainforest, to the Burning Man festival, and eventually the great adventure of starting a family.
Growing up, they both endured traditional public education. Christine responded to the frustration and the stress by burying herself in the work, graduating with top honors and many scholarships. When she got to college she kept up her incredible work ethic and got two degrees - one in Molecular & Cellular Biology and one in French. Chris on the other hand... well, he was gifted but didn't fit the traditional mold. He ended up dropping out of high school, getting his GED and working full time until the rest of his class graduated high school. He then went off to college where he still didn't fit in, and ended up dropping out of college during the Great Recession. As young adults, Christine worked many different fields, including research, farming, and teaching. Chris got lucky and found himself as an entrepreneur, eventually becoming successful enough that he paid off the end of Christine's student loans despite twice dropping out himself. Even though they had two very different paths they reached the same conclusion - the system they endured didn't prepare them to be successful adults, and young learners deserve something better.
When not running their local small business (and Pathfinders), they enjoy relaxing with family, going on adventures (picture is from New Zealand), playing board games, eating delicious food, and enjoying each other's company.
Growing up in Boston, Kris had to learn a lot of lessons the tough way, from the School of Hard Knocks. He was raised by his single mother and grew to appreciate the community around him as his extended family. Going to a school deep in the city, Kris didn't have access to the bells and whistles many of us take for granted. There was no gifted program for him, and so he spent years dozing off in the back of class, figuring it was better to be sleeping than to get in trouble for fidgeting around or asking too many questions.
As a young man, Kris knew there was more to life and he was determined to find it. One of his best friends lived out here in Seattle, and Kris decided his path would lead here too. He worked for several years to save up the money he needed, including selling his car for the last little bit of cash. Some people would say he took a big risk, but to Kris, the bigger risk was staying put and letting his life pass him by. Now all these years later Kris has built a happy and fulfilling life for himself here in the PNW.
When he's not working he has a reputation as one of the best amateur chef's around, willing to try any food concoction at least once. A self-proclaimed nerd, he spends evenings diving deep into stories of lore and magic, and playing extremely in-depth board games. And you can always count on him for a smile and a hearty belly laugh.
We knew he'd be a perfect Guide at Pathfinders because of his curiosity, open mind, love of stories, and ability to connect with young learners. We're very excited to have him on the team!
Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses. As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America.
Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world.
Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City.
Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.
Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.
Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."
Begin a Hero’s Journey,
Discover precious gifts and a commitment to mastery.
Become a curious, independent, life-long learner.
Embrace the forging of a strong character.
Cherish the arts, the physical world, and the mysteries of life.
Treasure economic, political, and religious freedom.