Mrs. Cindy Swope, an unsung hero of The Potomac School, retires as the Current advisor after 26 years

Mrs. Swope retires from The Current with a 26-year legacy.

Cindy Swope

Mrs. Swope retires from The Current with a 26-year legacy.

The close of the 2019-2020 school year marks the end of a true legacy. After 26 years as faculty advisor of The Current, Mrs. Cindy Swope is ending her tenure as advisor to the newspaper. She leaves an impact that is undoubtedly impressive. Her guidance and dedication to the club have not only bettered its members, but contributed to the Potomac community in many ways. 

Mrs. Swope began teaching at Potomac just two years prior to beginning her tenure as advisor and has since become a staple of the Upper School.

“Mrs. Swope is deeply caring and deeply committed to her students and their success,” said Mr. John Kowalik, Head of School, in an email interview. 

Unbeknownst to many, Mrs. Swope’s devotion to the club is not limited to the classroom. Rather, she stays at school for hours before every publication so that the executive editors may lay out the latest edition of The Current. 

Outside of the classroom, she ensures close contact with students so that all of her writers and editors feel comfortable in their given jobs. Whether through email, text, or quick ten-minute “huddles” around the school, Mrs. Swope consistently acts as both a guide and an outlet to those in need. 

Nicki Ganti, a senior who has Mrs. Swope as her advisor, said that she is truly the reason that her advisory is such a cohesive group. The advisory hosts family dinners with parents and siblings every year. “She created a home in our advisory. She has gone above and beyond as an advisor. She is what the school strives to be,” said Nicki. 

“Because of her, we are such a close group,” said senior Catherine Hyman, another advisee of Mrs. Swope.

Mrs. Swope’s drive to foster connection extended past her classroom and advisory into her leadership of The Current.  

“Mrs. Swope stresses that it’s not just a club; it’s not just a paper; it’s about how we make everyone feel included,” said junior and rising Executive Editor Izzy Engel.

“She wants a variety of writers from all different friend groups and parts of Potomac,” said Nicki.

Beyond the family-like atmosphere she strives to foster in every staff meeting, Mrs. Swope understands the importance of journalism and the role of the student press.

“It was always my goal to have a positive impact on the school’s culture. It’s a huge responsibility,” said Mrs. Swope. “Our mission is to tell what’s going on, the good and the bad. It’s the only vehicle in the school that does that,” she continued, speaking of The Current.

Since her first year with the paper, Mrs. Swope has encouraged students to trust their gut when chasing after a story. Her belief in the student press is unwavering. She pushes her students to ask important questions, even if it is controversial. “Mrs. Swope has been behind all the hard-hitting articles that caused change,” said Nicki. 

“She has a strong sense of what The Current can and should be, both in terms of quality, in terms of a publication people can feel proud to work on, and in terms of how The Current can affect conversations in the school,” said Drew Morrison ‘10, a former Executive Editor.

To Mrs. Swope, trusting kids and their perspectives is a large part of authentic and impactful journalism. 

“Kids aren’t stupid, they know what’s going on. When they’re asking questions about the school, they’re trying to make it better,” said Mrs. Swope.

“She has a very good sense for what’s the right line between raising issues in a certain way and building support among constituencies to do that,” said Drew.

“It’s not like she’s overarching or overbearing or calling all the shots. She really thinks it’s important to let the seniors and the execs lead,” said Nicki. “She really helps everyone come to their full potential.”

Not only does Mrs. Swope give her writers and editors the freedom to follow a potential story on their own, she strives to teach Potomac students to be confident in their work. 

“If the student press is doing its job, the administration is not always comfortable. If kids are thinking and asking questions and looking into things, that might pose challenges from time to time. The advisor is in the middle of that, making sure the kids don’t go off the rails but also empowering them through the process,” said Mrs. Swope. 

In 2017, this willingness to confront big issues caught the eye of the then not-yet head of the Upper School Mr. McLane. Before he learned that he would be joining the Potomac community, he sought out The Current to capture a slice of student life and opinion. He was impressed by a student article challenging the AP curriculum. 

“It told me a lot about the publication… the fact that [the idea] was there, it was considered – it showed the intellect and the thinking of the student body and that the advisor was supporting that,” said Mr. McLane.

Mrs. Swope believes in the importance of maintaining relationships built on communication and trust with not just her students, but with faculty and administrators. Because of her commitment to these relationships, she has strengthened the credibility of the club, in turn allotting The Current plentiful opportunities for interviews and discussions with faculty and staff members when a story is about to break.

“I am grateful to the school for its overall support of the student press. Administrators are exceedingly willing to talk with student reporters, and generally understanding that it is a learning process,” said Mrs. Swope.

Even when there is no major news on campus, she inspires writers to discover new perspectives, different quirks, and more off-brand opinions. One such way is through an activity in which writers walk around the school with the sole objective of asking as many questions as possible. To Mrs. Swope, the process of writing and brainstorming is far more crucial than the end result.

“Honestly, to me, the most important thing is not the finished product. I would watch things and say ‘we can do this better.’ Every meeting, every year. So, things got better,” said Mrs. Swope. “It’s all about using words for their most powerful effect.” 

Mrs. Swope’s decades of work on The Current have left a powerful legacy in the Potomac community.

Speaking of The Current, former Executive Editor Kathryn Karnaze ‘15 said of The Current that “it felt like the first part-time job I had in a way. It was the first thing outside of school that I really cared about doing. This was a creative endeavor and I loved that.” Kathryn went on to pursue journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. 

One example of this legacy is the way in which many of The Current’s former writers pursue journalism after graduating from Potomac. 

“Mrs. Swope gave students latitude to explore and to investigate storylines. She wanted students to speak with their own voice and to be true to themselves. Her legacy is that she instilled a love for journalism and many students carried that forward to college and eventually went on to be journalists in various media,” Mr. Kowalik said.

Jamie Lovegrove ‘12, currently a political reporter at The Post and Courier, the leading newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, noted that “I hope she knows that it was a very formative experience for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her and The Current.” 

Mrs. Swope’s wholehearted leadership has left a mark that continues long past a student’s academic career at Potomac. 

“I remember coming back last year, for example, and just how nice she was and how supportive she was of what I was doing even three years later, when I wasn’t her student anymore,” said Joey Semel ‘17, former Executive Editor and former Editor-in-Chief of the The Denisonian at Denison University. 

Though The Current loses an influential advisor in Mrs. Swope, the staff is confident that the lessons she has taught them will continue to be a guiding force as the paper enters a new chapter. 

“Mrs. Swope has trained us all to trust the process and work together. She’s instilled in all of us a sense of teamwork and a strong work ethic; those are things that will last without her because they are so ingrained in all of us,” said Izzy.

“The Current is truly a testament to her work, her ability to get writers involved, and her ability to get everybody engaged in the club,” said Izzy. 

Other than the institutional changes Mrs. Swope has initiated through her role in The Current, she remains an inspiration for future writers, leaders, and students of The Potomac School.

“I think that The Current is Mrs. Swope, but that Mrs. Swope really is so much more than The Current,” said Rachel Chason ‘13, former Executive Editor and current Washington Post reporter.