Inside SFS

Origin Story: What If?

by Maggie Weis, Retiring Head of Lower School

Maggie began her career at The San Francisco School in 1989 as a Physical Education Teacher. She has also served as Athletic Director, Extended Day Director, Student Council Advisor, Middle School Algebra teacher, and Service Learning Coordinator. She is an avid birdwatcher, student of photography, and steward of nature, and a longstanding, active member of the Portola Neighborhood Association.Maggie presented the following reflections at the Fall All School Meeting on October 2, 2019).


I was adopted. That put a different lens on how I was seen and how I saw. Once I knew I was adopted, it made sense that it had something to do with being different. It put society’s structure in question for me in a personal way. Why did a 16 year old girl have to give me up? What if I had a different family, a different name, a different home?


A great time of questioning society with civil rights advocacy, women’s liberation, war protests, and my own family members serving in the Vietnam War. There were long haired hippies and uniform clad soldiers. I appreciated the values of peace, love, and environmental care vs murder, war, and machines. Simultaneously, I wanted my brothers safe and proudly donned the sailor’s cap they gave me. What if the hippies were right? My brothers could come home.


I stepped into unanticipated leadership when an adult in high school recommended me for the Red Cross and Easter Seals youth committees. I never knew who it was nor why they chose me, but as I have reflected on it, it was likely that I had the “What if?” mindset. 

The Red Cross was about disaster planning and accessing care during crisis, and Easter Seals was about care for those who were literally blocked from access all the time. We played wheelchair basketball and learned who was actually able-bodied on that court. Easter Seals was particularly important in my origin story because teens with and without disabilities served on the committee together. So this was not about doing charity work for someone in need.  Instead, it was about living with the limitations of creative thinking with the folks most directly affected. ATMs, curbs, mass transit, the architecture of buildings and homes were all limiting access. What if we could meet the needs of all people? They flocked to it and the barriers we worked on then are fewer now.


I arrived in SF and found the Gay Softball League. The mayor, Art Agnos, was there to commemorate Opening Day. This blew my mind – there was institutional support, even celebration, for my gay life. What if my family and the whole east coast had this philosophy and framework? Coming out was a daily effort. While the ’80s were just filled with calculations of when is it safe, when is it dangerous, and when is it a “must do” for my own integrity, it was clear that SF was different. SF was home.


I arrived at SFS in 1989. “What ifs” arose constantly at SFS. What if we did this? Maybe–let’s discuss what that might mean, and what it would take. We had charrettes for Adventure Playground development that incorporated kids, parents, landscape architects, teachers, and administration. It was interactive and fun.

What if we had an athletics program? Make it.

What if we had a student council? Create it.

Snack shack?  Build it. 

Mascot? Make it. 

Simultaneously, softball continued – my roommates attended a game one night and were as horrified as I was by my own coach subbing in and then slamming and badly hurting a catcher in her quest to score that lousy run. As my roomies and I reflected at home after game, they all noted that is why they would not play sports. It was too vicious.

My experience of being at SFS would not allow this summary. What if we changed the underlying philosophy? I said we can create a team with a philosophy of no interest in competition but in learning the game and having fun. They doubted.

I signed up a team the next day – the Tomboys. By the second season, it was so popular we had to create a second team with the same philosophy. In the third season, we had to create a tournament team. Sponsored by an SFS parent’s organization – a reproductive clinic – we called ourselves the Basters. We adjusted the philosophy slightly for people who were more  experienced but more excited about the fun of being on a team and traveling together and less concerned with winning.

We had changed the dominant philosophy, people flocked to it, and we played with people sliding safely home. 


SFS is all about “What if?” What if we create a second class per grade in middle school? Build the Edeli Building to support that. What if we need a second art room? What if we build a Community Center? What if we have a strategic plan initiative about empathy in the age of acceleration”? A redesign of the school schedule and calendar? A reimagination of the preschool? 

As I look toward this being my last year, folks indicate this will be my last of everything here – my last Opening Ceremony, my last 8th grade class, etc. Time is rapidly accelerating as we head through this, my last year, at SFS.

However, I wish to see it differently. What if I see each event as my first?

What if it moves me anew or sparks questions around the new challenges versus an embrace of the past? What if it inspires me to question anew what we do and why, and we tweak something here or there? What if we converse about and tweak our philosophy and practice? People will flock to it. The new communal staff lunch is fabulous! The first SFS Carnival was fabulous! Change is fabulous. 

SFS is like a family in a home. You all pull together in good times and bad, solve challenges together, face change and eventually, you each grow and you do move along. SFS has been a home, I have gotten to grow up here and soon I get to play with a whole new round of  “What ifs?”

Posted July 01, 2020