Wherefore Art Thou, Teachers?

Parker Adds Two New Faces To Art Department


Photo credit: Isaac Warshaw

A project from Palmer’s Photography I class.

On the fourth floor, past the Middle School drama room, bathrooms, and the art office, lies Room 430. It is home to the photo lab and the room of former Photo Teacher Kiley Piercy, who left at the end of the 2018 school year. On the first floor lies Room 111. It is currently the dance studio and the former office of Alejandra Gonzalez, the dance teacher who also left at the end of the 2018 last school year.

If a student decides to take a Photography class this year, they can expect to see a new face teaching the class. Since the departure of Piercy, Parker has hired a new Photo teacher: Katherine Palmer.

Palmer comes from the Harvard-Westlake school in Los Angeles. She first heard about Parker from her husband, who went to school here as a child. “I’d heard about it when we first got married twelve years ago,” Palmer said. “And when we have come and visited his mother, we’ve driven by the campus.”

Palmer moved to Chicago for multiple reasons. “We moved to Chicago because we found work here and my husband has family here,” Palmer said. My husband is teaching at the School of the Art Institute.Before teaching at Harvard-Westlake, Palmer taught at the Paul Cuffee School in Rhode Island. She also taught at a special needs school in her early twenties. Palmer was the main art teacher for behavioral, non-verbal, autistic learners, and has been teaching since she graduated from college.

Palmer had other reasons for coming to Parker. “I was really interested in the mission of the school,” Palmer said. “I’ve been in a different private school for the last twelve years, and I was always interested in being in a more progressive environment because I was in a very traditional one.” She felt that Harvard-Westlake was too traditional, and wanted a different atmosphere of learning.

“It’s been really cool just to get to know the different age groups,” Palmer said. “I’ve been teaching mostly seventh, eighth, and ninth for the last twelve years, so it’s great to be able to teach older students and younger students and see the range of different possibilities.”

Palmer enjoys teaching a variety of ages. “I am really loving Parker,” Palmer said. “It is great to teach such a range of ages and classes, keeps me on my toes and continually learning.”

Palmer has been fitting in well amongst the Parker faculty, “Yes, I can tell you that she is fitting into our somewhat wacky environment incredibly well,” Visual Arts and Graphic Design teacher Travis Chandler said.

However, Parker and Harvard-Westlake do have some characteristics in common. “The school that she taught at out in California was also a private school,” Chandler said. “It had a similar demographic as far as the student body goes.”

After the departure of Gonzalez, Parker hired Florence Walker-Harris, a former sub at Parker who has been dancing since she was four. “I’ve been at Parker for the last three years subbing,” Walker-Harris said. “So coming on as a faculty was a bonus basically and it was something that sort of fell into position once [Gonzalez] decided that she wanted to leave.”

Walker-Harris first heard about Parker from our very own Upper School Head of Performing Arts, Leslie Holland-Pryor, who encouraged her to come to Parker. “We know a mutual friend, so we’ve known each other for quite some time, and she’s always seen that I teach,” Walker-Harris said. “I teach other places, I’m the artistic director of another studio, and she was encouraging me to come to Parker.” Walker-Harris continues to work at Studio One Dance Theatre.

Junior Ella Gomez-Barrientos is a current student of Walker-Harris. “I’ve only had a few classes with her so I don’t know her that well,” Gomez-Barrientos said. “But I have really enjoyed the few classes I have had with her.

Walker-Harris has some background in teaching. “I was a professor at Chicago State University for nine years,” Walker-Harris said. “I taught the study of nutrition, dietetics, fitness and weight control. I taught some other things in dealing with fitness and health, like power walking, aerobics, aqua aerobics.” She has also been teaching dance outside of Parker. “I’ve been teaching dance since I’ve come here to Chicago in ‘96,” Walker-Harris said. “I’ve been teaching dance for years because I’m originally from New York, born and raised.”

Walker-Harris’ background in dancing stretches all the way back to her youth. “It was always a passion of mine,” Walker-Harris said. “I’ve always been choreographing, I’ve always been in shows, and it was just something, I think, that made me happy.”

Gomez-Barrientos was a student of Gonzalez’s before she left, and has gotten a feel for both of their teaching styles. “There are a lot of similarities but also differences from their teaching styles,” Gomez-Barrientos said. “Although Ms. Walker-Harris’ classes move faster than Ms. Gonzalez’s, I think you get the same amount of teaching from both of them.”

In addition to Palmer, Walker-Harris is fitting in amongst her students. “She makes sure that everyone knows what they’re doing before moving on,” Gomez-Barrientos said. “She loves the energy and encourages it as much as she can but also maintains a professional atmosphere. The class is always super interesting and I’m always learning something new.”

Walker-Harris is looking forward to her first year as the dance teacher at Parker. “I think the students are great, and they’re eager to learn,” Walker-Harris said. “I know that I will be pushing them to their greatest potential, and I will be introducing more different techniques and different styles of movement. So far they’ve been embracing it, so I’m totally fine.”