By Saj Sri-Kumar
In 1979, a young science teacher came to 3700 Coldwater Canyon Avenue as one of 13 new faculty members that year. Thirty-three years later, Harry Salamandra is still here.
“I didn’t expect to stay here as long as I have,” Salamandra said.
Today, Salamandra, or “Mr. Sal,” is known as the Head of Upper School, a position he has held for 14 years. Next year, he will be shifting roles to become the school’s first ever Senior Alumni Officer.
Even before he joined the faculty, Salamandra was a part of the Harvard School family—literally. His sister married science teacher Jim Brink who, after a year of working at Harvard School, told his brother-in-law about a new position in the science department.
“I applied to the school, came out for the interview, and next thing I know, I’m working here,” Salamandra said.
Today, even when he leaves campus, he is still not far from the community, living in a house adjoining his sister Vivian and Brink.
“It’s been a great opportunity, truthfully, to be able to live close to relatives, and yet we have separate lives,” he said. “But, you get the best of all worlds. You have the support of a big family and you get to live your own separate life as well.”
Initially an eighth, ninth and 10th grade science teacher, Salamandra also coached the boys’ varsity tennis team. In 1987, incoming Headmaster Thomas C. Hudnut promoted Salamandra to Dean of Students. Simultaneously, he began teaching computer science instead of science.
During his tenure, Salamandra witnessed the merger between Harvard and Westlake Schools.
”I believe we’ve grown into a school that has the best of both worlds, the best of both schools,” he said. “We’re a school that has students that are intellectually curious, as well as students that are talented athletes, musicians, artists. I believe the faculty from both schools have worked hard to make sure the student body for our new school is one we would be proud of, and really even surpass the expectations that were initially out there.”
Although it has been years since he has taught a science class, Salamandra still teaches Choices and Challenges to sophomores.
“I still do consider myself a teacher,” he said. “Some of the best parts of my day are when I’m with students in the classroom. I learn from the students. It’s a two-way street. I enjoy the intellectual vigor that there is in a classroom situation.”
Although he will no longer have an official position working with current students next year, Salamandra said he plans to continue his involvement through Peer Support and teaching classes. He also hopes his new role will allow him to bridge the gap between students and alumni, working with alumni to find internships and other off-campus opportunities for students.
Even after 33 years, Salamandra said that he hasn’t gotten tired of working on the same campus.
“I still wake up in the morning and want to go to work,” he said.