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Potomac Begins New Academic Year, Honors Outstanding Teachers

The Potomac School began the 2022-23 academic year on September 7, with a record 1,069 students enrolled in grades K-12. On Friday the 9th, the Potomac community gathered outdoors for the school’s annual Opening Assembly, an event that sets the tone for the year ahead.

The celebration began with a procession of the school’s oldest and youngest students, as the members of the Class of 2023 escorted the kindergartners into their first Potomac assembly. Inspiring remarks followed, with Head of School John Kowalik reflecting on the meaning and importance of generosity of spirit, and Student Government Association President Yabby Maelaf ’23 urging her fellow students to follow their passions and persevere as they pursue their goals.

A highlight of the assembly was the presentation of Potomac’s 2022 Bill Cook Award for Excellent Teaching. Named in honor of beloved teacher and assistant head of school Bill Cook, who passed away in 2016, the award is presented annually to teachers “who exemplify the commitment to excellence and love of learning that define a Potomac School education.” This year there were two honorees: Shefali Sardar and Nick Hanson.

In nearly 25 years at Potomac, Shefali Sardar has held a number of classroom and administrative positions. She began as a Middle School (grades 4-6) teaching intern, then served as a sixth grade teacher, a language arts resource teacher, and the Middle School’s language arts and humanities coordinator. In 2016, Ms. Sardar was named the Middle School’s first academic dean; she continues in that role today, while also serving as a language arts specialist, working primarily with sixth graders.

John Kowalik observes, “Shefali Sardar is known for her incredible work ethic and uncanny ability to address specific student learning needs. She devotes time before, during, and after school to work with students who need extra support, talk with parents, assist her colleagues, and strengthen our Middle School curriculum. She leads by example, consistently going above and beyond to support our students’ learning and our teachers’ success.”

He continues, “Ms. Sardar embodies the Potomac ideal of lifelong learning, both in her efforts to expand her own knowledge and skills and in her focus on helping her fellow teachers grow and excel. She is a dedicated teacher, a collegial leader, and a tremendous asset to our school.”

Nick Hanson joined Potomac’s Music Department in 2006. Through his efforts, the school’s handbell program has grown to include five ensembles, featuring 139 students in grades 5 through 12.

John Kowalik says, “Mr. Hanson is a passionate, engaging, and very talented teacher. Thanks to his expert instruction, Potomac handbell performances showcase the most advanced and current techniques in ringing. And, to the delight of student performers and audiences alike, the music often includes chart-topping popular songs that Mr. Hanson has arranged himself.”

In addition to leading Potomac’s program, Nick Hanson has spoken at music conventions and conducted at handbell festivals throughout the United States and in England, China, and Singapore. Many of his handbell compositions and arrangements have been published.

John Kowalik concludes, “Along with his work as a music teacher, Mr. Hanson serves as a seventh grade advisor and sponsors our Intermediate School (grades 7 and 8) Anime Club. He is an enthusiastic educator, respected by students and colleagues alike for his skill, generosity, and unwavering dedication to excellence.”    

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