This article first appeared in the Harker Magazine Commemorative Anniversary Issue, celebrating 125 years, published July 2018.
The Nichols family provided leadership at Harker for more than 50 years and its impact on the school is immeasurable.
Maj. Donald Nichols, a 1926 graduate of Palo Alto Military Academy, purchased and became superintendent of PAMA in 1950. He transformed Miss Harker’s School for Girls into a coeducational day school in the late 1950s, merged it with PAMA, changed its name to Harker Academy and moved it to San Jose in 1972.
Maj. Nichols’ son, Howard, grew up at Harker. He graduated from PAMA in 1956 and attended Palo Alto High School before earning a business degree from Stanford University. He returned to Harker as a staff member in 1965 and took over leadership of the Harker Academy from his father in 1973.
He and his wife, Diana Nichols, who served as a science teacher, principal and head of school, were the heart and soul of Harker, building it into a prestigious academic powerhouse. Under their leadership, Harker expanded to include high school education in 1998.
Nichols Hall, Harker’s science and technology building, is named in their honor. Howard Nichols passed away in 2008. Diana Nichols, who championed personal development, science and technology, and global education programs at Harker, spoke recently about the family’s experience at Harker. Her comments are paraphrased.
How did you and Howard foster a positive teaching and learning environment at Harker?
We wanted to create academic excellence, so we hired the best teachers we could find who were experts in the subjects they taught, even at the elementary level. Teaching is connected to caring about the child, because what happens in the classroom is the single most important thing at the school.
How has Harker’s location in Silicon Valley influenced the school?
One of the smartest things Harker has done is take advantage of the area’s brilliant people who are doing cutting-edge things. It’s been tremendous for our students to interact with people who are changing the world.
What is the most significant contribution you and Howard made to Harker?
It was our firm belief that children should be treated with love and caring. It’s our responsibility to provide them with opportunities to discover who they are and what brings them joy. We tried hard to set that tone, to let the children know we valued and respected them, and that in turn they should respect other humans.
Marla Holt is a freelance writer based in Minnesota.