About the Harley School2019-10-23T07:54:32-05:00

Welcome to The Harley School

Better is possible… At The Harley School, joy in learning is at the center of all we do. We are a community of educators and students who have a passion to learn and to impact the world around us. We encourage curiosity and inspire discovery. Our unique approach delivers a challenging academic program that creates a diverse and close-knit community while nurturing students’ strengths and helping them reach their full potential.

Our History

The Harley School’s rich history began in 1917 as a preschool for young children. Today, we’ve grown to a school of 500 for children Nursery (age 3) to Grade 12.

In the spring of 1917, a group of mothers of widely differing social circles met to discuss the means of providing a school experience for their four-year-olds. The Rochester area at this time did not have a program for four-year-olds; in fact, these women were criticized for their plan to “shirk their responsibilities and hand over their youngsters to the care of another.”

Original records say there were ten women, but only nine are named: Mrs. Max Adler, Mrs. Mortimer Anstice, Mrs. Cogswell Bentley, Mrs. Franklin Book, Mrs. Harry Frankenstein, Mrs. Walter Meyers, Mrs. Kenneth Townson, Mrs. Julian Wiley, and Mrs. Horace Wolf.

The mothers consulted with Miss Mary Jean Miller of the City Normal School and, under her guidance, decided to start a Montessori school. There had been two earlier attempts at a Montessori school in Rochester. The first was a kindergarten in the home of Mrs. Edward Mulligan, run by Miss Miller. The other consisted of the son of Mrs. Horace Wolf and three guests; Mrs. Wolf had purchased the necessary materials from the “Children’s House” in New York, studied the philosophy and practice of the system with Miss Miller, and taught her little charges at the benches and tables which were formerly in the Mulligan schoolroom. The Montessori method stressed the development of the individual at his own pace, with the teacher as a “guide” rather than as a “goad.” It sought the development of habits of decision, concentration, self-reliance, and personality in the student. In 1917, such aims were considered quite revolutionary.

The mothers engaged a teacher from New York who had studied under Montessori in Rome. They decided the school was to be democratic, with scholarships for a few less privileged children, and cooperative, with the parents and teacher running it together. In 1917, with only ten students each paying $8 a month tuition, and with costs for a teacher, rent, heat, and light to pay, the mothers were valuable assistants.

Mrs. Kenneth Townson (niece of Mrs. Mulligan) was chosen first president, and Mrs. Cogswell (Harriet) Bentley was credited as the founder. The school opened for the summer in the front rooms of a house on Oxford Street, and the following winter it moved around the corner to a vacant tailor shop on Park Avenue. The mothers collected chairs, rugs, curtains, and other necessities to furnish the school. Later, when the school day was lengthened, they took turns preparing lunch. They called for and delivered pupils. Some of them even taught. And so, during that first year, the pattern was set for the future Harley School.

The 1917 principles, because they were both visionary and practical, have won the respect and dedicated service of hundreds of Harley students, faculty, and parents.

The school was first called “The Children’s University School of Rochester.” Its stated purpose was “to interpret and meet the needs of the individual child so that he may fit in with and serve his fellow beings to the height of his power. The school surrounds the child with conditions which free his potentialities for full growth and development and seriously take into account not only his outward achievement but the kind of individual developed through the achievement.”

The method to be used was described in this way:

“In an environment scientifically prepared to meet the needs of the individual child, he chooses his own work and continues as long at this task as his inner satisfaction demands. Through a feeling of achievement and mastery, each child feels himself a stronger, more capable individual and gains courage to proceed with more difficult problems and to help others and cooperate with them along the way. No child is held back or forced forward to keep pace with another, but progresses as rapidly as his ability allows. The teacher guides and protects the child’s inner powers without disturbing them; consequently, the child has a chance to express his own individuality, and habits of decision, concentration, self-reliance, and personal responsibility are developed. Where there is no hindrance or outer compulsion, where conditions are prepared to free mind and body, where the approach toward the child is positive rather than negative – rebellion is never born, and the discipline of the teacher gives way to discipline from within by the child himself. He, therefore, has an opportunity completely to realize himself, become master of himself, and develop the power to respect the rights of others.”

Over the next few years, the school moved from the Park Avenue store to an apartment nearby, then to a room in Anthony Memorial Hall at the University of Rochester, and then to larger quarters in the basement of Third Presbyterian Church on the corner of Meigs Street and East Avenue. Newspaper accounts mention a “Miss Wareing” as the first director, but we have no other information about the earliest faculty members.

The first printed bulletin in our records is for the school’s sixth year, 1922-23, when it was housed in Third Presbyterian Church. This bulletin pays tribute to an earlier director – Miss Gertrude Hume – but lists as the present director Miss Katherine Quinlan (later Mrs. Shedd). It mentions that there has been an increase in enrollment of 300% since the school’s founding and that the scope of the school is:

“For children of three and four, the school gives the training and companionship which they need under the happiest and best conditions. The work is free and spontaneous, and it leads directly to the regular school. Children of five and six usually start, of their own initiative, reading, writing, and number work. In this first grade, each child advances at the rate of his own individual maturity and is commonly ready for second grade at six and a half. The school plans to carry the children through the fourth grade, always keeping in mind the principles of the Montessori method. Each group has a half hour period of French daily in which they have conversations, games and songs. The older children learn to read and translate French. A half hour period in music is allowed for each group. The children gain an appreciation of good music through ear training, which forms the basis for tone, pitch time, and rhythms.”

Mrs. Francis Cunningham, who was an aunt of Stephen Hinrichs, headmaster of Harley from 1963-1977, served as president of the Board of Trustees at this time. The French classes mentioned above were taught by Madame Dinah Windholz, who became a legend at Harley School as a teacher of great charm and enthusiasm.

In January 1924, the school was incorporated under the Education Law of the State of New York under the name HARLEY – the name being a combination of the first three and last three letters of Mrs. Harriet Bentley’s name. The first meeting of the incorporators, members, and trustees of the Harley School was held January 28, 1924 at 2:00 p.m. at the office of attorneys Hubbell, Taylor, Goodwin, and Moser, 31 Exchange Street, Rochester.

Also, in 1924, after two years at Third Presbyterian Church, the school needed even more room, and so it acquired a home of its own – a house at 242 Oxford Street. The school year 1924-25 opened at this location. Three groups encompassing pre-school through 5th grade were limited to 15 in each. Yearly tuition ranged from $150 to $225. The purpose and method were essentially the same as that listed in previous bulletins. The following phrase is interesting: “The child is limited only by the rights of others and, far from being abandoned to his own devices to work havoc and destruction, he is carefully and precisely shown the proper handling and use of his environment.” Ruth Walcott (later Mrs. Hugh MacKenzie) was hired to teach the new 5th grade. She recollects these days as follows:

“On the ground floor of the rambling and rather spacious household, Fanny MacLean had the pre-school group, still under the influence of the Montessori Method. Since she was something of an artist and musician herself, these small children were inspired to do amazing things! On the second floor were two other groups – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades under the direction of Katherine Quinlan Shedd; and 4th and 5th of which I had charge.

Everyone was talking and thinking about ‘Progressive Education’ during those years, and the group of parents who started the school were very serious about combining the best of various methods in their children’s education. As the emphasis was always on the individual’s interest and ability, it was an everyday phenomenon as one observed the different groups to see one child completely absorbed in some beloved book for a couple of hours, another getting on with a project in painting, and still another doing advanced arithmetic ‘beyond the call of duty.’ Mrs. Francis Cunningham, the Board president, gave direction and counsel in the art work, and several mothers participated in some area of special interest.

My outstanding memory is of small groups of children working at their own particular pace, in various areas of interest. It was relaxed, informal, intimate – there were very few disciplinary problems. It had many of the elements of learning at home, some of the give and take of a large family where the older children took it upon themselves to help the younger ones. It was such an exciting educational venture that it is hard, in retrospect, to recall the things which didn’t work!”

Ted Trimble, who attended Harley from 1922-1931, remembers an occasion when there was some sort of epidemic and so his class met on the front porch of his house at 633 East Avenue, where the Rochester Museum and Science Center now stands.

By 1925, the stage was set for the real flowering of the new little school – “The Sumner Years.”

The school grew and prospered. Enrollment increased to 55 in 1925-26, and it became necessary to rent the downstairs apartment in a house across the street from 242 Oxford Street in order to house grades 3-6.

In September 1925, an event of major importance occurred for the school. Miss Louise Sumner became the director. She had taught previously at Evanston High School, and for 10 years she had been director of a girls’ camp in the Adirondacks, a position she kept for many years after she became Harley’s director. During the years of her tenure, 1925-1944, the school grew into the school we know today – a school for boys and girls for nursery school age to college entrance. Because she was a woman of vision, courage, and infinite dedication, she was able to appreciate and make real the principles laid down in 1917 by the original mothers. She also added many ideas of her own. Harleyites of today will recognize many of the policies we sponsor as having come from her.


The Head of School, Administration & Board of Trustees

The Head of School is supported by a dedicated administrative team. The board and administration work together to advance Harley’s mission, provide organizational oversight, and set policy.

Harley’s board of trustees provides strategic leadership by enlisting its members’ talents, expertise, and commitment to the school in areas of governance, finance, enrollment, diversity, and philanthropy.

Please take a moment to read a welcome letter from our head of school, Larry Frye.

A word from our Head of School, Larry Frye

Welcome to Harley!

Fifteen years ago, when first interviewing to come to Harley, a veteran faculty member pulled me aside and said, “This is a happy place.” Every day since that first visit, I and hundreds of colleagues and students have entered this warm and welcoming school to do the grand and delightful work of education.

Now it’s your turn to visit! Try as we might to describe who we are and what we strive to achieve—both on this website and in our publications—the school is best understood through experience, so please accept our invitation to come for a tour, a shadow day, or an open house.

When people ask me about Harley, I tell them that while there is a lot of fun and laughter in this “happy place,” we are also deeply serious about the education we provide our students. Our mission states that we prepare “our students for the challenges of tomorrow and to lead lives of great purpose.” These are lofty goals, but we are aiming as high as we possibly can on behalf of our children.

We achieve these grand ambitions through an education rooted in the progressive tradition, one that cultivates a joyful, sustained love of learning alongside the grit, precision, and academic acuity needed in college and beyond. This comes from working with an extraordinary faculty, one that sets high standards for our students, and then gives everything they have to help students meet and exceed them.

Harley has been fortunate in the last decade or so in that supporters have helped us upgrade most of the facilities on campus, most recently including The Commons (devoted to education for a sustainable future), the Winslow Natural Playground and Outdoor Learning Center, the Moore/Brown Center for Creative Media, and the Peckham Wellness Center. We turn toward our second century as strong and vibrant as we have ever been.

I look forward to meeting you.

Mission & Core Values

The Harley School Mission

We are a diverse, inclusive school. We provide a balanced education that prepares our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow and lead lives of great purpose.

  1. We inspire academic excellence.
  2. We foster joy in learning in both the arts and the sciences.
  3. We promote physical and mental fitness.
  4. We show how to care for the world and other people.
  5. We empower our students to become confident, lifelong learners.

Diversity Mission

In the Characteristics of a Harley Graduate, a faculty-driven aspirational document that guides our decision-making and vision, we say we seek to cultivate

A civic person…a pluralist (globally aware, tolerant, appreciative of difference); a respectful steward of community and environment; and a compassionate individual who knows what it means to take care of another human being.
A commitment to pluralism and empathy, then, is integral to the mission and purpose of the school. We see a pluralistic and empathetic outlook as a core “outcome” for our students.

Toward that end, we seek to be a diverse community in which diversity in all its forms is cherished and freely explored. We do so in academic contexts, choosing as readings and projects work that supports this goal; we do so in community contexts, cultivating mutual understanding and respect among our students and a sense of responsibility to the broader community; we do so in social contexts, developing the skills of empathy, appreciation, and collaborative problem-solving; we do so in admissions, financial aid, and hiring, as we invite underrepresented populations to join our community; and we do so in all of our everyday decision-making.

We further commit to regular self-assessment of our diversity mission and the effectiveness of our ongoing efforts to live up to these aspirations.

Commitment to Diversity

The Harley School believes diversity enriches all groups or communities, and the individuals that are a part of them. Diversity of race, ethnicity, geographical origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, familial or economic status, etc., forms the fabric of our society. The Harley School seeks out students, families, and employees who value and contribute to the diversity of our institution and community.

The Harley School’s curriculum, from Nursery (age 3) through the Grade 12, reflects a global perspective and diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and traditions. Many of our students also actively develop the skills of empathy, appreciation, and collaborative problem-solving by participating in community service and service learning initiatives, such as Horizons at Harley and our unique Hospice programming.

Harley students have exhibited a commitment to caring for others both locally and internationally. Recent student-led initiatives include Water for South Sudan, which raised over $15,000 to build a well that brings clean water to an impoverished Sudanese village.

Student Rights and Responsibilities

Acceptance of differences. Respect for others. Self-respect. These are the pillars of a Harley education. The following principles are taught and practiced from Nursery to graduation.

  • I have the right to have the respect of others. I have the responsibility to respect others.
  • I have the right to feel safe. I have the responsibility to help others feel safe.
  • I have the right to an atmosphere that promotes learning. I have the responsibility to promote learning through my preparation and participation.
  • I have the right to have my property respected. I have the responsibility to respect the property of others.
  • I have the right to expect the best of others. I have the responsibility to be my personal best.

Admissions to The Harley School

Please contact us to schedule a personal tour or class visit. Click below or call (585) 442-1770.

Contact Admissions

Learn more about Admissions to Harley