Potomac students say goodbye to favorite teachers departing in mid-year: A conversation with Ms. Jessica Reynolds

Charlotte Castle, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Once limited in-person instruction began last October, several Potomac faculty members decided to leave their teaching positions out of wariness of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their departures have affected students of all grade levels. When my advisor, Mr. David Pinkus left, we learned only a few days ahead of his departure.

The Current reached out to teachers who left after the start of the year, and Ms. Jessica Reynolds, my math teacher, was willing to talk to us.

At the beginning of the school year when we were in “Red Mode,” with only virtual learning, Intermediate and Upper School math teacher Jessica Reynolds worked hard at preparing a productive, meaningful distance learning experience. Working alongside peers in the math department, she helped to create instructional videos, research online graphing and equation platforms, and experiment with collaborative Zoom meetings.

As Potomac moved into Orange and then Yellow mode, however, Ms. Reynolds’ Covid-19 safety concerns increased. Ms. Reynolds said that “My husband and I have done a lot of research and right now we just don’t feel like there’s sufficient evidence for what the risk level is for inside. Hopefully, eventually, we will come up with a science experiment that says, ‘Hey, if you wear masks and you’re inside it’s safe.’ That’s my hope,”

When Ms. Reynolds realized it was going to be difficult to teach effectively while protecting herself from potential Covid-19 exposure, she discussed her concerns with Mr. McLane and Mr. Woods, the Upper and Intermediate School Heads. Together, they decided that Ms. Reynolds would not teach at Potomac in this new year. 

“Right now I don’t have another [teaching] position,” Ms. Reynolds said. “I am going to take a few months to figure things out and look at what options are out there. I don’t imagine I will join another school this year, but I will probably always be involved in education in some way just because I love working with students and I love thinking about teaching math.” 

Although Ms. Reynolds left due to health and safety concerns, other teachers have unexpectedly departed and left students puzzled at the announcements of yet more changes. Junior Destiny Attagba, who had Ms. Reynolds as her teacher for two years, said that “When Ms. Reynolds left, I was pretty shocked since she’s been at Potomac for so long and made no indication of her leaving so soon. It made me skeptical considering that Mr. Pinkus left so abruptly too.” 

Natalie Roots-Nowakowski, a sophomore, had Ms. Reynolds as her math teacher for the past three years. Her favorite memories in class include staying up late to work on an extra credit project for pie day, and Ms. Reynolds bringing in brownies for the class. She will also miss her helpful, engaging teaching-style. “When I had her back in seventh grade I was really struggling because it was an honors class and I was doing really poorly at the beginning of the year, and she helped me all the way through,” Natalie said. 

“Last year when I dropped down from honors and had to adjust to her class she was really kind and made sure that I was caught up to the pace where everyone else was. She’s always there to help me out and meet with me whenever need be, and adjust to both my schedule and my needs while also being conscious of hers,” Natalie continued.

Sophomore Ben Gerkin, a student of Ms. Reynolds’ for a year and half, was understandably worried about the transition to a new teacher. He also misses Ms. Reynold’s unique personality and teaching style. “Sometimes Mr. Reynolds made us go outside. I liked going over the previous night’s homework on the board, and I really liked her math jokes. Those were funny. She was also really nice, so I am going to miss that,” he said. 

While Ms. Reynolds will be missed by many of her students, Potomac hired Ms. Julie Casola who assumed the math department position following winter break. Ms. Casola has taught extremely informative and engaging classes, and I look forward to the rest of the year in her class.