Karla Harry, a beloved member of Gordon's faculty, passed away peacefully at home, in the arms of her family, on Thursday, October 26 2006.
Karla had been a librarian and Middle School advisor at Gordon since 1999, and she served as Interim Director of the Middle School for the 2005-2006 school year.
Karla’s contributions to Gordon began before she joined the staff of the school. When her daughter Hannah arrived in Kindergarten in 1997, Karla did as well. Whether she was leading the parent volunteers in what was then the Arthur Livingston Kelley Library, participating in a Winter Auction, or simply joining in the games at the Harvest Festival, her steady presence was felt.
Karla extended her gifts—including her unbounded love for children’s literature—further into Gordon when she joined the faculty as Middle School librarian in 1999. Together with Frances Martindale, she helped to design and breathe life into the Joukowsky Family Library. Karla’s spirit of intelligent kindness lives on in this inviting space—the heart of the school.
Within months of becoming librarian, Karla created the Rooster Games with Myron J. Francis School’s librarian Joy Starnino. This daylong challenge quizzes students on their understanding of the books nominated for the Rhode Island Children's Book Award.
Since then, the Rooster Games spread statewide, and they annually bring together hundreds of students from over two dozen public, parochial and independent schools. For her work in creating the Rooster Games, Karla was honored by her peers in the Rhode Island Educational Media Association with the Presidential Award in 2004.
The Rooster Games was the most visible of Karla’s ongoing efforts to find a place for Gordon in the regional and national culture of libraries and elementary education. When authors like Chris Raschka and Joseph Bruchac came to Gordon, educators and students from local schools joined the audience. As an active member of statewide library and literacy associations, Karla plugged Gordon into a broader network and introduced dozens of her peers to the work of the school. She also worked with Melody Allen of the Rhode Island Office of Library and Informational Services to involve Gordon students in the process of choosing titles for the national Newbery and Seibert Medals.
Karla took a broad view of her responsibilities at the school. She initiated the fifth and sixth grade book club, which brings students and adults together over literature and food throughout the school year. The sixth graders in her advisories were as likely to be found exploring GPS technology in the woods as they were leading a Middle School assembly. On the student council, she patiently led Middle Schoolers through their annual agenda of service learning and leadership opportunities.
As a library professional, she was conversant on the role of computer networks and the internet in the field of information services. Her confidence and vision allowed her to be a model and leader during a period when the school expanded its investment in infrastructure and integrated technology further into classroom learning.
Karla’s work with the Gordon Robotics teams represented a major commitment of time and educational expertise.
The First Lego Robotics League requires that students prepare multimedia presentations on the role of technology in society. As Middle School math and science teacher Kathy Fisher led the students through the programming and engineering work, Karla worked with students on the interdisciplinary elements of the competition. Gordon’s teams consistently performed well in all aspects of the competition.
In 2006, its fourth year of participation in the First Lego League, one of Gordon’s teams became state champions. They traveled to Atlanta, GA, to represent Rhode Island in an international tournament. Under the lights of the Georgia Dome, the team edged out eighty teams from fifteen nations to come in second place in the programming category. Back at home, the research and presentation side of this team’s work also earned them recognition as Young Environmentalists from Save the Bay.
Karla spent her final year at Gordon serving as Interim Director of the Middle School while leading the national search for a permanent leader for the division. With her deep understanding of Gordon’s program, Karla could gracefully and decisively lead the Middle School team through the transition that brought Danny Karpf to Gordon’s Middle School.
From the time she was diagnosed with cancer, Karla was determined to keep her personal challenges a private family matter. When her health prevented Karla from returning to Gordon in September 2006, the school stayed in constant contact with her family, and Gordon had the privilege of becoming part of the Harry family's support network.
Gordon hosted a memorial service for Karla on November 5th, 2006. A crowd of seven hundred gathered to exchange memories and condolences. All corners of Karla’s world were represented—family, colleagues, childhood friends, and Gordon parents, students and alumni who had been touched by her work.
Memorial bookmarks were handed out to all guests as part of the service. Those who were unable to attend can request a bookmark from 401 434-3833 x117.
In lieu of flowers, donations were made to the Gordon School to create the Karla Harry Visiting Author Fund. This fund supports the annual Visiting Author Program. For more information about this fund, please contact 401 434-3833 x117.