With the departure of Mrs. Parker, Potomac says goodbye to a beloved campaigner for equity and justice

Her loss, which follows the departure of other Black faculty and administrators, raises the question of whether there’s space for Black faculty’s voices at Potomac


Torrye Parker

Mrs. Parker and Ms. Hampton serve together as mentors at the 2019 Empowering Women of Color Symposium event.

Mina Bahadori and Audrey Lee

Mrs. Parker, a popular and respected English teacher, leaves Potomac after five years. She was an active member of the community as well as the faculty advisor for Empowering Women of Color, co-founder of the InLight magazine, and an important leader to the Black Student Alliance. Mrs. Parker also was an ally that sought to always be available to students and worked often alongside faculty to read widely into anti-racism literature.

Although Potomac has engaged in a wide range of DEI programming in the last few years, Mrs. Parker reluctantly came to the decision that she could bring her passion for transforming education elsewhere to an organization more aligned with her core values of equity, justice, and radical truth telling. “I’m very passionate about transforming education and focusing on equity and making sure that all students get what they need to thrive,” she explained. “I think I could probably do that more effectively somewhere else.”

Ms. Bailey, a tenth grade English teacher, expressed her sadness at seeing a beloved friend and colleague leave, noting that “Mrs. Parker is fiercely intelligent. She is constantly innovating and thinking about ways to inspire and engage students. She’s been a really motivating colleague and a very generous colleague in that way.” She also added, “I admire her because she’s never been afraid to say the hard, but essential thing, and get into what John Lewis termed ‘good but necessary trouble.’”

Mrs. Parker has also greatly impacted the lives of her students. She pioneered the first social justice class last fall and served as the K-12 Cultural Competence Curriculum Coordinator to diversify Potomac’s curriculum to further include marginalized voices. 

Junior Anna Heller, who took Mrs. Parker’s social justice class last fall, said “Mrs. Parker goes out of her way to make everyone feel included, and she talks about topics nobody wants to talk about. She was like a second mom to me, and she really gets what it’s like to feel different at a school where everyone tends to look the same.”

Junior Ainsley Ganti, a leader of EWOC, also commented “It’s been really meaningful to see and experience how Mrs. Parker wholeheartedly listens to and understands her students.” 

While many are sad to see Mrs. Parker leaving, the high turnover rate for Black teachers is, unfortunately, not a surprise at Potomac, signaling a larger issue within the school. Several Black faculty members and administrators have left in the past two years including Dr. McClain, in the math department, Mrs. Hampton, the school librarian, and Mrs. Williams, the outgoing Director of Equity and Community Initiatives.

In asking Mr. Kowalik about the school’s efforts and new approaches to the retention of faculty, he said, “New teachers are assigned faculty mentors to support them during their first year at Potomac. Recently, we introduced an affinity mentor program, which offers new teachers the opportunity to be paired with a colleague whose identity aligns with their own. This program is designed to build professional relationships that support teacher success and retention.” 

During his time at Potomac, Dr. McClain felt that, “Potomac does not have a problem of recruitment, it has a problem of retention. It’s like they want black faces, but not black voices.” He also commented that “in order to really truly address equity within the education system, you have to check on how well you have responded to the concerns and the needs of the people with the least amount of power in that space.”

 In Dr. McClain’s view, when marginalized voices, especially those of Black faculty, aren’t being heard, Potomac’s focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion falls short. Mrs. Hampton, former Upper School Librarian, echoed Dr. McClain’s thoughts. 

 “There needs to be more black administrators. They want to be in positions where they can now be leaders in the school. Not just to a small group, but to the whole environment. When Black teachers don’t feel like they’re going to get that opportunity to advance, why stay?”

Rather, former Black faculty shared the universal sentiment of staying for the students, rather than for themselves. 

“I felt like I needed to stay and support our students because students of color need to feel comfortable and know that there are adults who can relate to them. I stayed for students more than for myself. I got to the point where I was tired of talking. I’m not going to continue to try and suggest books and explain my world when you are not even trying to be in the room. It became exhausting because I personally didn’t feel like I had that many allies,” Mrs. Hampton said. 

Her reference to “being in the room” emphasizes the true meaning of allyship. Mrs. Hampton describes an ally as someone who is willing to commit to educating themselves for themselves. She explained when allies are willing to listen and make an effort, minorities feel that someone genuinely cares.  

The National Association of Independent Schools reports, “The most-cited primary reason for departure [of educators of color] (79%) was the overall school climate and culture.”

Mrs. Parker explains, “At the end of the day, we really need to step back and analyze how systemic racism affects our everyday interactions at Potomac. If you look at the research, faculty of color at predominantly white schools tend to feel excluded, left out of senior leadership teams, and therefore feel tokenized and marginalized. Before schools invite more faculty of color into the space, they must interrogate the conditions that exist at their institution that have created white faculty as the majority group and kept faculty of color on the margins.” 

All three former faculty believe that Potomac as an institution can work on expanding its DEI work in not only amplifying marginalized voices but also not placing the burden of educating their white peers on students and faculty of color. 

Mrs. Parker then emphasized, “Belonging and inclusion asks, ‘Do teachers of color feel valued? Are they able to bring their authentic and whole selves to work each day? Do they feel that their insights and full perspective matter? Are we creating the conditions and systems where teachers of color do not have to endure microaggressions or assimilate to our dominant culture? Are faculty of color getting what they need in order to thrive?”

Through all these questions, Mrs. Parker’s desire to transform the Potomac community still remains strong. 

“Students of all identities, of all backgrounds should feel like they are able to thrive. They should feel supported, feel affirmed, feel valued, feel like their voices are heard by the school. I definitely think some students feel that way, but not all students. I know both students and faculty will continue to ask the difficult questions and offer concrete solutions to work toward an equitable and inclusive community.”