In January, the lower school campus was visited by about 20 people, who arrived by charter bus, from Community Leadership San Jose (CLSJ), a program offered by the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce that identifies potential community leaders and helps them develop skills to address community issues.
“The class begins with a two day retreat in the fall that is followed with monthly all day classes that focus on different aspects within our community including the criminal justice system, SJ politics, the arts, media, education and the health care system,” said Todd Trekell, who participated in this year’s class and served on the team that specialized in education.
As part of their ongoing training, the group examined Harker and two other schools in an effort to learn about the various elementary school options that San Jose families have available to them. In addition to Harker, they also visited Discovery Charter School and Washington Elementary School. Before visiting, they had gathered information on each school, such as classroom size and student-to-teacher ratios. They then toured the schools to see how they worked, beyond the numbers. “We thought that it would be fascinating to get a real time look into how teachers teach, the various class room sizes, the ethnic makeup of the student body, the overall cost of enrollment to the parents, the food the children eat, the emphases placed on college, the funds allocated by the state to the school, etc.,” Trekell said. “We have all been reading so much about the challenges associated with the education system in California and we wanted to show our classmates firsthand what is going on. ”
The group’s visit to Harker was spurred by the school’s reputation as one of the nation’s top independent school. “We thought that it would be really interesting to understand why it has this reputation and to see if it was really that different from the two other schools that we toured,” said Trekell, who noted that Harker seems to be more well-known nationally than it is within Silicon Valley. “Although we were a class of nearly 30, many of our classmates had never heard of Harker prior to our tour,” he added.
As part of their tour, the CLSJ trainees visited three classrooms to get a sense of what a Harker lower school class session is like. They visited Michelle Anderson and Kelle Sloan’s kindergarten classroom to see a visit by a local fireman, and watched Cindy Proctor teach social studies to her grade 1 students. They also stopped by the gym to see a rehearsal of the grade 5 play, “School Daze.”
Following their tour, they sat down at the lower school library for a Q&A session with several Harker administrators, including Chris Nikoloff, head of school, and Sarah Leonard, primary division head, before returning to city hall to discuss their findings. What learned, Trekell recalled, was that “Not all schools are created equal. We were all very impressed based on what we saw at all three schools. The students were engaged, the teachers seemed to be passionate and as a class we felt that things appeared much better in the classroom then what our perception was based on how the media has portrayed day to day life in most elementary schools. “