This article was originally published in the summer 2012 Harker Quarterly.
Two long-term plans clasped hands this spring when Harker became top bidder on a desirable property near Union Avenue and Highway 85 in San Jose and decided to open a preschool there, initially. The purchase process, though not completed, is in full swing and the full transition will take several years.
“While we prepare to transition from Blackford,” said Chris Nikoloff, head of school, “Harker will open a preschool on Union. Not only will this accomplish some strategic objectives for the school, it will make productive use of the Union campus,” he said, noting that a preschool summer program is slated to open in June 2013, with the annual program to follow in September. The preschool will serve ages 3 through (young) 5-year-olds and aims to open to 48 students, with the capacity to grow up to 120 students.
For the next several months, Harker is doing its due diligence on the Union campus reviewing needed permits, traffic issues, environmental questions and the title. If all goes well, the administration could close on the property around the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013.
Harker had been studying the preschool market for about two years — long before the Union property arrived on the scene — most recently during its recent accreditation process. Previously, the school ran a very successful junior kindergarten, but closed that program (as well as the school’s boarding program) to make space for the upper school. According to Nikoloff, many independent K-12 schools have a preschool, and the Harker administration continually hears from kindergarten families about the limited availability of quality preschool programs. A preschool would effectively allow Harker to provide another important enrollment window in the primary grades, extend its mission to an additional age group, and respond to a growing need for a quality preschool in Silicon Valley, especially with the state of California rolling back the eligibility age for kindergarten. The
preschool plan took on new impetus as the Union acquisition plan matured.
Union Avenue – The Third Campus
Ever since opening the upper school in 1998, Harker has planned to own three campuses. Currently Harker owns the upper Saratoga and lower Bucknall campuses, but holds a lease on the middle school Blackford campus until 2025. However, the Blackford lease has long been viewed as a stop-gap measure.
“Our long-term plan is to locate the middle school on the Bucknall campus and move the lower school to the Union campus. Bucknall’s facilities – such as the fields, pool and gym – meet middle school and high school specifications, while the Union campus facilities are much more appropriate for K-5 students,” said Nikoloff, adding that there are four key needs to address before transitioning from the Blackford campus lease into its final Harker-owned campuses plan.
The four key needs prior to completing the middle- and lower school transitions are building a gym and theater complex on the Saratoga campus to replace the gym and theater on the Blackford campus; creating a permanent solution for field use; making improvements on the Union campus in preparation for its K-5 use; and relocating some operations at Blackford.
And, while the preschool would initially operate on the Union property, it would later be transitioned to leased or purchased land when the time comes to move the K-5 programs to Union. Kelly Espinosa, Harker’s summer school director, has been charged with administering the preschool. A veteran Harker employee, Espinosa holds a bachelor’s degree in child development from San Jose State, and has many years’ experience directing Harker’s summer school, after-school recreation programs, and the Harker Family & Alumni Picnic.