The Potomac School began the 2022-23 academic year on Sept. 7 with a record 1,069 K-12 students enrolled, and two days later paid tribute to two educators who have changed the lives of many students.
A highlight of the school’s annual Opening Assembly, held Sept. 9, was the presentation of Potomac School’s 2022 Bill Cook Award for Excellent Teaching. Named in honor of beloved teacher and assistant head of school Bill Cook, who died 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.”
Honored in 2022 were Shefali Sardar and Nick Hanson.
In nearly 25 years at Potomac School, 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, 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.
“Shefali Sardar is known for her incredible work ethic and uncanny ability to address specific student-learning needs,” said Head of School John Kowalik. “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.”
“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,” Kowalik said. “She is a dedicated teacher, a collegial leader and a tremendous asset to our school.”
Hanson joined Potomac School’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.
“Mr. Hanson is a passionate, engaging and very talented teacher,” Kowalik said. “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 School’s program, Hanson has spoken at music conventions and conducted at handbell festivals throughout the U.S. and in England, China and Singapore. Many of his handbell compositions and arrangements have been published.
“Along with his work as a music teacher, Mr. Hanson serves as a seventh-grade adviser and sponsors our Intermediate School (grades 7 and 8) Anime Club,” Kowalik said. “He is an enthusiastic educator, respected by students and colleagues alike for his skill, generosity and unwavering dedication to excellence.”
The Sept. 9 opening assembly, held outdoors, 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 School assembly. At the event, Kowalik reflected on the meaning and importance of generosity of spirit, and Student Government Association President Yabby Maelaf urging her fellow students to follow their passions and persevere as they pursue their goals.