Head of School

Frailey Barbara

Imagine a middle school that is:

  • A small and nurturing, yet diverse and vibrant, community; 
  • A challenging and creative learning environment; 
  • A place where students feel like they belong, grow their confidence, and indeed come into their own.

I had a hard time imagining such a middle school before I joined Explorer West in 2019. Yet, that’s exactly what I found here. Since then, I have experienced our community growing stronger, and our program continues to adapt and evolve. 

At Explorer West, we know the middle school years are pivotal ones for young people. We are steadfast in creating conditions to help them thrive -- small classes, warm and engaging teachers, and an expansive, integrated curriculum. We focus on building respect and cultivating trust through solid student-to-adult and student-to-student relationships.

Together, we honor our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We embody the core values that have defined our school from its founding: Personal and Community Responsibility, Integrity, Creativity and Inquiry, and Confidence.

Explorer West students participate fully in each aspect of our program. By the time they finish 8th grade, our students take pride in some exceptional accomplishments. They have:

  • Written and produced original plays
  • Mastered the art of essay writing
  • Become confident public speakers
  • Learned to play team and individual sports, and even invented their own games
  • Completed Algebra I in preparation for advanced math and science classes
  • Mastered the basics of Latin and traveled to Rome as a group
  • Learned to play an instrument and sing
  • Camped, hiked, backpacked, snowshoed, and cross-country skied together for three years

The impact Explorer West’s program has on our graduates is extraordinary. High schools consistently share how well prepared, confident, and kind our students are and how much they love learning. They move on with high expectations -- of themselves, their peers, and their teachers. That’s the way it should be! 

I invite you to explore our community. Plan to visit our campus with your family and imagine how we can become your community. I look forward to getting to know you!


Barbara Frailey

Head of School

Soup’s On! A Recipe for Community

By Dawn Fornear | November 22, 2023

It’s that time of the year, when we lean into our supportive community to launch our annual fundraising efforts!  Our theme this year is Soup’s On – A Recipe for Community. We see our school as a place where, through an artful meld of humble ingredients and some careful tending, magical things get made. Maybe…

Note from Barbara: Class Meetings and Restorative Practices

By Dawn Fornear | March 7, 2023

Every other Friday, each section gathers for a class meeting – a new routine we started this fall. Each section’s session is led by a pair of teachers (or staff – I co-lead a 6th grade meeting with Cilla). While the format of our meetings may change a bit from time to time, we generally…

Time for a Winter Reset?

By Dawn Fornear | December 20, 2022

Just as we have the opportunity each September for a fresh start, taking a longer break mid-year and then coming back together in January gives us another chance to think about how we want to be and what our goals are. Don’t worry; I’m not going to start talking about New Year’s Resolutions – I…

Note from Barbara December 6, 2022

By Dawn Fornear | December 6, 2022

Did you know that many of our weekly faculty meetings include a round of Student Spotlights? Yesterday afternoon, as we often do, we went around the room and shared positive anecdotes about our students. Here are some of the stories that came up: A 6th grader, often pretty quiet, who seamlessly took on a leadership…

Note from Barbara: Reflections on Ross Lake

By Dawn Fornear | October 3, 2022

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend three days in the Olympic National Forest (and National Park) last week with a group of Explorer West seventh graders. On a backpacking trip, we get to know each other in different ways. As always, I was so impressed with the students I hiked…

A Note from Barbara: Board of Trustees

By Dawn Fornear | March 9, 2022

You are all familiar with the incredible teachers and staff who work with your children every day at school. However, you may have less visibility to the wonderful people who volunteer their time and expertise to the school as members of our Board of Trustees. Boards play such a critical role in the success of…

Note from Barbara: Communication Tools that Build Trust and Respect

By Dawn Fornear | February 15, 2022

One of the most important jobs we have as middle school educators is to help our students learn to navigate social norms that seem to be constantly shifting. They are eager to impress one another and connect through humor, and they are learning to understand and assert their own personal boundaries. They make mistakes all…

Note from Barbara Frailey, Head of School

By Dawn Fornear | January 25, 2022

Play is Like Oxygen! When your kids were younger, you probably heard educators talk all the time about the importance of play in their development. Everyone understands that play gives children the opportunity to learn through experimentation, to take risks, to learn to share, and to be flexible, among many other benefits. I believe that…

Congratulations Falcons, Class of 2021!

By Dawn Fornear | June 22, 2021

In rain, sunshine, and wind, this year’s graduates were given quite the send-off! We were so excited to be able to celebrate the  Class of 2021 with a one-of-a-kind commencement ceremony to end their one-of-a-kind year. For the first time in years, families gathered on our campus for the commencement ceremony. The Faculty Speaker, as…

A Note from Barbara: Anti-racism at Explorer West

By Dawn Fornear | May 20, 2021

I know you all have been very aware of the work we’ve done this year to adapt to the conditions of COVID-19, to continue providing the highest-quality school experience, safely, to our students. But as we near the end of this extraordinary year, I want to make visible some of the work our faculty, staff,…