William J. Knauer, head of school, The Harvey School

Local heads of school in Westchester, Fairfield and Dutchess counties talk about lessons learned from the pandemic, inspiration, superpowers, what makes them smile and – in one case – the benefits of dogs on campus.

Located on a 125-acre campus in Katonah, The Harvey School is a coeducational, college-preparatory, private school for students in grades six through 12 with an optional five-day residential program for students in grades nine through 12. 

William Knauer has worked in independent and international schools for 30 years. Armed with a B.A. in linguistics from the University of Michigan, an M.A.T. in English and E.A.L. from Trenton State College, an M.A. from Middlebury College in English, and a certificate in systems analysis from Columbia University, he served in teaching and leadership roles at the American School of Khartoum in Sudan, Munich International School, Riverdale Country School and Packer Collegiate Institute before heading to Barcelona, Spain, to accept the position of head of the Benjamin Franklin International School. In 2016, he returned to the United States to become head of The Harvey School. His daughter, Emiliana, is a rising junior at Harvey. 

Tell us something surprising about your school.

“The Harvey School offers a unique educational opportunity for students to not only be challenged academically but also have the space to try new things, discover and pursue their passions and learn to become innovative, independent and creative thinkers. Our students thrive academically, athletically, artistically and socially, because they are happy at Harvey. We believe that joy matters. When students enjoy coming to school each day, they are focused and engaged as learners.”

How did your school cope during the pandemic? 

“We set one goal as our North Star and stuck with it:  Keep students in school to the extent that it was safe and legal to do so. Everything else followed from that. Apart from the obvious advances most schools realized with regard to technology, we found other unexpected benefits that will affect the way we operate moving forward. For example, as a school with students from over 100 zip codes and various countries around the world, the shift to more remote interactions allowed us to include more of our families in community events in a way we had not successfully done in the past. Additionally, the changes we had to make to our schedule to comply with required cleaning protocols created mini “breaks” between classes, which had a very positive effect on student engagement and concentration, particularly in the middle school.” 

Which aspects of running a school are most appealing to you? 

“I am grateful to be able to work with children every day and to collaborate with talented, dedicated, creative, caring colleagues.” 

What superpower do you bring to the school? 


What led you to choose education as a career? 

“My mother and older sister were both teachers. I originally started teaching as a way to live overseas, but I quickly realized I had found my calling. Each day is different — interesting, challenging, fulfilling — and I am grateful to be able to spend my professional life working with students.”

Tell us about an encounter at school that put a smile on your face. 

“One of the highlights of the day for me is to greet students when they arrive on campus each morning. During the pandemic, we managed to keep the campus open for all students and avoid any on-campus spread of the virus, but occasionally the state’s contact tracing protocols would send significant numbers of students into quarantine. One morning, one of our students returned to campus after being isolated for 14 days. As I greeted him, he paused and exclaimed with complete sincerity, ‘I will never take this place for granted again.’” 

Did you have a favorite teacher who affected your life? 

“My high school English teacher taught me the power of language, the importance of precision and clarity and the wonder of imagination.” 

What do you do to recharge in your free time? 

“Read, run, play hockey and spend time with family and friends.” 

The Harvey School at a glance

  • Head of school: William J Knauer 
  • Number of faculty and staff: 98
  • Student enrollment: 345
  • Annual tuition: $41,800 to $46,800

For more, visit harveyschool.org.

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