Potomac bids farewell to cherished faculty who are retiring after over two decades of service

Emily Raman, Staff Writer

As the school year comes to a close, students and colleagues are saying goodbye to many teachers and staff members. Three faculty members in particular will leave behind lasting legacies in the Potomac community. Upper School French teacher Cindy Swope and Projects, Security and Transportation Director, Perry Swope, along with Lower School Head Nancy Powell reflect on the impact they’ve had at Potomac and the ways in which the school has changed during their time here.

In her 29 years at Potomac, Mrs. Swope was faculty advisor for The Current for 27 years and has regularly taught from a slate of nine different French courses, wrote curricula, and designed engaging classes that inspired students to exceed their own expectations. She said in an email that her legacy is “ creatively crafting intellectual challenges for my students every day, and pushing them to grow and do more than they think they can. My legacy is also in seeds that I plant that come to fruit years or even decades later.”

She reflected that a lot has changed since 1992 when she was a new faculty member here.

“I have to say Potomac has changed very, very much. In 1992, the Upper School was only one small building. No big Crossroads to spread out in, the cafeteria a tiny space down where Robotics rooms are now. Between classes, the two stairways were packed. Assemblies were in an old auditorium; seniors and faculty got to sit in folding chairs and everyone else sat on the hard floor.” 

“In 1992, we didn’t have email. We had to go talk face to face with people. As a new teacher, that’s how I learned how high the bar was for our students, by hanging out in a much bigger faculty lounge than we have now, listening to my colleagues talk about what they were doing in class.”

Photo: Mrs. Swope

Here are some students’ fond memories of Mrs. Swope:

Junior Catherine Carroll said, “She brings in snacks a lot and always tells about what she’s heard on the news. One time she brought in madeleines for everybody, and we had a whole little lesson on the history of madeleines. It was really fun, and it’s indicative of how much effort she puts into making classes engaging and having a modern twist to them.”

Junior Hazel Klitenic added, “She shows up every day with passion, and I can tell she deeply cares about each and every student.” 

Junior Jack Peters also described how Mrs. Swope is “always trying to engage with you. She’s always asking about your other classes, asking if you’re doing okay, watching out for you beyond French.”

Perry Swope served in many roles at Potomac, including school bus driver, supervisor of Building and Grounds, director of transportation, and director of facilities. He first arrived at Potomac in 1980 and has been beloved by faculty, bus drivers, and students alike. It’s hard to imagine entering Potomac’s campus without waving hello to Mr. Swope.

“What people don’t know about Mr. Swope, because people think of him as the guy that makes things happen around here, is that he’s really creative. He’s a singer— he’s got a phenomenal singing voice. He’s been involved with Revels for years, and he’s always been one of the Morris dancers at May Day,” said Michael Bergman, Upper School theatre teacher.

“The first thing I think of Mr. Swope is his cheerful smile when we come on campus every morning, welcoming us to school. He’s such a positive energy on campus,” said junior Margaret Taylor.

“Mr. Swope has helped supervise every major building project at Potomac in the last 30 years. I think he knows every door hinge and pipe clamp in the whole school, but also, he’s really gregarious and takes a personal interest in everyone around him,” said Cort Morgan, Upper School art teacher.

Mr. Swope said in an email that the biggest transformations of Potomac during his 41 years at the school were, “certainly the dramatic physical changes (buildings, renovations and additions) and growth in scale and scope (enrollment, program, reach and reputation) from when I first arrived in 1980, and we were a little PreK – 9th grade school perched on a hill. No Arundel Library, no Performing Arts Center, No Upper School, East Building or Tundra Building, no Chester Gym, no Spangler Center…and an antiquated Lower School.”

Photo: Mr. Swope

When asked about his legacy, Mr. Swope noted, “I’d like to be remembered as a leader who built teams (Buildings and Grounds & Transportation) who served the school with distinction and passion, and having been responsible for planting, saving and transplanting hundreds of trees and celebrating our reflection of nature during my tenure, and who acted, sang and danced as DC’s first St George in the first Revels in the nation’s capital.”

Nancy Powell served as a Lower School teacher, reading specialist, and most recently as the Head of the Lower School. She is known for her joy, care for every student, and the energy she brings to the halls of the Lower School. 

Ms. Powell’s profound impact on the lives of Upper School students is evident through the students’ memories of her:

 Eighth grader Harriet Falkoff said, “She pranked us on April Fools that because of how many snow days we would have, we would have school over the weekend.”

Junior Evie Kim said, “I remember when Mrs. Powell helped me with some sort of reading comprehension, and she gave me a Skittle because I did a good job. It was my first time ever having one, and I fell in love with Skittles. So I thank Ms. Powell for introducing me to Skittles.”

Mrs. Powell also reflected in an email on the biggest changes that Potomac has seen during her time at the school.  

“Although the campus has changed and evolved in the most extraordinary ways, the sense of community and shared purpose have remained strong throughout my 23 years at Potomac.”

There was once a Lower School tradition called the “Peanut Hunt. Lower School teachers arrived early and scattered thousands of peanuts across the LS playground. Students were assigned to teams and had to collect as many peanuts as possible and add them to their team’s bin. The bins were then weighed to determine the winning team. After that, teachers bagged the grassy peanuts into individual bags so children could take them home. Due to allergies, the Peanut Hunt later became the Tootsie Roll Hunt. Warm Tootsie Rolls? THAT tradition didn’t last long!” Ms. Powell continued.

Photo: Ms. Powell

When asked what she hoped her legacy at Potomac would be, Mrs. Powell said, “My greatest hope is that every child leaves Lower School feeling known and appreciated for who they are as a person and as a learner. The legacy of the Lower School is definitely not mine alone. Our teachers are steadfast in their commitment to play (the important work of childhood); their nurturing of curiosity and the asking of questions; and their grace in helping children learn from mistakes, both academic and social.”

The gift of Ms. Swope’s, Mr. Swope’s, and Ms. Powell’s mentoring, teaching, leadership and spirit strengthened the community and will be long remembered by their many students and colleagues.