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Lower School


Confidence grows in Lower School. Here, they begin to realize their abilities, interests, strengths, and goals.


Donnette Echols
Head of Lower School

Michelle O'Hara 
Dean of Lower School

Joanna Huang
Administrative Assistant to the Head of the Lower School

Building Connections

Our youngest learners are guided towards a lifelong love of learning while being equipped with the foundational skills for social, emotional, and academic success. Our deeply committed, highly trained teachers know that children in this age group are naturally curious; through dynamic lessons, discussion, and hands-on activities, our classroom communities examine questions and build critical connections to the world around them.

Natural Curiosity

Every week, students learn to work both in groups and independently, as they participate in literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, art, and music. Lower school students are appropriately guided and challenged to be confident and prepared for Middle School.

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Student uses technology to code his robotic project
Students nail into a piece of wood
Bat Houses
Students hold nets in the woods
students use stamps and paint to create art.
Students analyze skeletal system of fossil

Imagination Thrives

Lower School classes take advantage of the rich learning environment that is Potomac’s 90-acre home. Our students hike our trails, use their imaginations in our creative play spaces, and develop a deep appreciation for our beautiful campus and their stewardship of the land. All that we value at Potomac has its roots in the Lower School.

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Our Lower School students and parents value the small class sizes. Although these classes are built around a core instructional team, we offer a range of specialist instructors who are dedicated to working together to design a robust curriculum that meets the developmental stages of students of this age.

Dino Dig

The kindergarten paleontologists continued studying dinosaurs with a fossil dig in the big sandbox. They had tremendous success finding deer antlers, cow jaws, and scapulas. They really dug it! 

Grade 1 Hosts Publishing Party

Poetry may be one of our young authors’ favorite genres! Once students in Ms. Berke’s grade 1 class got past the notion that poems have to rhyme, their pens started flying across the page. You would be amazed by the weight and power of their poems. At the end of the unit, each child selected a poem to publish. On the Friday before Winter Break, the class held a poetry reading at a "coffee shop" for our writing celebration. Kids sipped hot chocolate and enjoyed a snack while they listened to poets read their poems out loud. 

This Week in Kitchen Chemistry

Kindergarteners are continuing their studies in kitchen chemistry! In a recent experiment, they learned about diffusion – or when things spread out. They observed the sugar coating diffusing off Skittles and added a sugar cube in the center for even greater diffusion excitement. This was a sweet science lesson! 

Every student has a voice. Some students share in the traditional way of raising their hand but others might like a pad of sticky notes or a journal to share a take away idea. Knowledge is power. When we teach children how the brain works it makes sense that learners must take risks in order to grow. Like any muscle, you have to use it in order to grow it. Also, hearing a second grader use words like neuroplasticity is fun!

Ms. Jenni Hoffman, Grade 2 teacher

Students analyze foreign currency


Spark Business Academy joined our second and third graders to lead one-day “Dollars and Sense” financial literacy courses for each grade. The project-based learning experiences focused on foreign currencies (e.g., by continent) and exchange rates, donating money/philanthropy, and how to save. 


BuiLding a technology foundation

As the use of technology transitions from toy to learning tool, students are exposed to a wide range of applications and resources. The integration of technology and curriculum is highly valued throughout the Lower School, with students using various applications to support their learning as well as programs that give students the ability to communicate their understanding in a variety of ways. 

Tech & Innovation

Dr. Donnette Echols

Head of Lower School

The early childhood years are where we teach students to dream while they are awake. Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

During my very first visit to the Potomac Lower School, I knew it was a perfect place for me. I saw students being encouraged to invent algorithms and write their own kindergarten how-to books. When I got an opportunity to join in on the fun while being served a bamboo salad on the playground, I was hooked.  Imagination requires the use of our whole brain, which increases our students' problem-solving abilities, social-emotional development, and empathy quotient.  I love that the Potomac Lower School encourages students to use their imagination to speak their dreams into existence.

I knew that I wanted to be an educator since I was five years old when my favorite at-home activity was pretending to teach my siblings and my teddy bears.  I consider it a badge of honor that most of my life has been spent in schools.  After college, I began my teaching career as a middle school mathematics teacher and found my love of early childhood while in graduate school.  Shortly after completing my doctoral studies, I became the founding Head of School for an early childhood school that grew into a preschool to a Grade 8 parochial school during my eighteen-year tenure.  

I love the natural curiosity, the kindness, and the willingness to take academic risks of our youngest learners. I am elated to be back to exclusively focusing on the Lower School, where we teach students to dream while they are awake.

My husband, Mark, and I have five children and two grandchildren.  Our youngest son, Donovan, will be an incoming Potomac 9th grader.

Ms. Gladys Alfaro Moisa

Lower School Math Specialist

"I am passionate about infusing math with art and thinking routines. I also love all kinds of making and design thinking. However, my greatest passion and joy as an educator is building strong connections with my students and their families!"

My 27-year teaching career began in El Salvador where I taught at private Catholic schools, and the American and British Schools. I have taught PK, Kindergarten, first, third, fifth, and sixth grade, and a brief stint as a College professor at Universidad Tecnológica de El Salvador. 

In 2001, I took a year off from teaching to work as an Academic Consultant for Cambridge University Press. As an academic consultant, I got to live in Guatemala and traveled to Mexico and throughout Central America and Panama providing professional development to ESL/EFL teachers. It was a wonderful experience, but I missed being in the classroom!

I first came to the USA in 2002 as a member of  VIF (Visiting International Faculty Program). In 2006, I was honored as Wake County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. Wake County is one of the largest counties in North Carolina. I moved to the DC area to work at Sidwell Friends School where I spent 10 years as a Third Grade Teacher. 

This year, I am embarking on a new adventure as the K-1st Grade Math Coordinator at The Potomac School. I am passionate about infusing math with art and thinking routines. I also love all kinds of making and design thinking. However, my greatest passion and joy as an educator is building strong connections with my students and their families!

I am a self-taught artist. I create paintings that proudly show my Latino traditions and culture. I was a featured artist for Hispanic Heritage Month at the Office of Multicultural Affairs at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and served as a Latino Community Advisory Board for the North Carolina Museum of History.

I live in Rockville, Maryland with my daughter Isabel, and our two cats Lola and Gabi. Isabel and I love traveling! One of our goals is to visit all major archaeological sites in Latin America.

Mrs. Molly Berke

Grade 1 Teacher

"I feel incredibly lucky to spend my days with children who are not only curious and inventive, but from whom I also learn so much."

I am appreciative to be a part of the Potomac community, as it is such a dynamic environment. First grade is a year of incredible growth and discovery, as students are beginning to unlock the mysteries of the world. The magic happens as their confidence in exploring possibilities is fostered, challenges are enthusiastically met, and meaning is created.

After receiving my international relations degree from Bucknell University, I moved to New York City to work on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. On a continual path of self-exploration, I switched to work on national advertising campaigns for BMW and Procter & Gamble. Realizing my true passion for education after a few years in New York, I obtained a Master’s in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University and returned to Washington, DC. I spent five years teaching junior kindergarten, first, and second grade at the Harbor School before joining Potomac.

I feel incredibly lucky to spend my days with children who are not only curious and inventive, but from whom I also learn so much. Thinking about young children’s potential, I get excited for our society’s future. I strive to meaningfully engage my students in ways that help expand their awareness and make sense of this incredible world in hopes of fostering future generations capable of doing the same for those around them.

Mr. Glenn Adamec

Lower and Middle School Physical Education Teacher and Coach

"The connection between healthy body and healthy mind has never been as important as it is today. The world is an ever-changing and stressful place, and what better way to counter that than through exercise, sport and play."

I have a true calling for kids and sports. The combination of teaching K-6 physical education and coaching grades 7-12 allows me to begin at the most fundamental stage of instruction and continue through a student’s US athletic career.

My undergraduate degree is from James Madison University, and I have completed graduate-level coursework at both George Mason University and the University of Virginia. Professional memberships include the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD) and the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (VAHPERD).

The connection between healthy body and healthy mind has never been as important as it is today. The world is an ever-changing and stressful place, and what better way to counter that than through exercise, sport and play. The importance of teaching “life lessons” such as focus, perseverance, sportsmanship and teamwork through physical activity cannot be underestimated, as those skills can be applied in all aspects of life.

Mrs. Victoria Callahan

Kindergarten Teacher

"Ever since I was young, I always enjoyed helping others learn and grow whether it was staying after school to read to young children, tutoring students that needed extra help, or assisting people with special needs."

Although this will be my first year at Potomac, I have been working with children for over ten years. Prior to joining Potomac, I taught first grade for three years. I am thrilled to expand my teaching career at this wonderful school and work alongside with incredible colleagues who share the same passion as me. I am proud to call The Potomac School my new home!

Ever since I was young, I always enjoyed helping others learn and grow whether it was staying after school to read to young children, tutoring students that needed extra help, or assisting people with special needs. Watching my older sister become a third grade teacher only affirmed my decision to educate young minds. I continued my passion for teaching by receiving my degree in Early Elementary Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. I have benefitted from a variety of experiences with children of all ages with different backgrounds, thus giving me an awareness and understanding of diversity and multiculturalism in creating a classroom community. I always strive to positively impact the lives of my students - and that all starts with creating the right kind of environment so they want to be in the classroom and ready to learn each morning.

I have resided in Northern Virginia my entire life but dream to visit my parents’ hometown in South Korea. When I’m not teaching, I enjoy spending quality time with my loved ones including my seven-year-old shih tzu, Sparky. During my free time you will find me browsing Pinterest, exploring different cuisines, going on picnics, or hitting a pilates class!

Mrs. Tara Clayburn

Lower School Music Teacher

"Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember."

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a supportive, artistic, musical, and very southern family in Louisville, KY. I then attended Morehead State University in Eastern Kentucky for my undergraduate and Master's degrees in music education, where I also met my husband. I taught music and movement for K-5 students in an elementary school setting in Mt. Sterling, KY, as well as choreographing for the high school marching band colorguard. After five years in Mt. Sterling, I needed a change and only dreamed of a school like Potomac. After visiting the campus in the spring of 2008, I knew this was a magical place and where I was meant to be. My husband and I packed our bags and moved to Falls Church, where we now reside with our two sons, Preston (10) and Robert (6).

I completed my Orff Schulwerk Certification and Curriculum Training at the University of Kentucky, and the Orff Schulwerk Master Level Training at George Mason University. I have taken numerous other Orff Schulwerk supplemental training courses with world-renowned practitioners at The San Francisco School, The Hartt School of Music, Villanova University, Southern Methodist University, George Mason University, and at the Orff-Institut in Salzburg, Austria. I had an article published in the Winter 2018 issue of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association's quarterly magazine, The Orff Echo, and I have presented teacher training workshops for the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA) and the Middle Atlantic Chapter of AOSA. I currently serve as the President of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the AOSA.

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, reading new books, working on my photography portfolio, and creating quilts for family and friends. 

Mr. Brendan Cogdell

Teaching Fellow

I am thrilled to embark on an exciting journey as a teaching fellow in the lower school. My educational voyage has been filled with diverse experiences that have shaped my approach to teaching and mentoring. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of being a preschool assistant teacher and a kindergarten educator, where I discovered my passion for fostering young minds. Additionally, my summers were spent as a camp counselor and a supervisor overseeing the well-being of children ranging from pre-K to first grade. I bring a wealth of knowledge from my role as a water safety instructor, teaching children the invaluable skill of swimming.

Outside the realm of education, my pursuits are equally vibrant. As a certified personal trainer, I emphasize holistic growth—both mentally and physically. My dedication to athletics as a collegiate track athlete, who also pursued a dance minor, stems from my time as a dedicated ballet dancer. One of my most cherished roles is to explore and inspire young learners' passions, while ensuring that they have fun in the process. The culmination of my experiences allows me to create innovative and engaging learning environments, helping children thrive and discover their potential.

As Maya Angelou once wisely said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Guided by this profound insight, I am committed to making every child's educational journey memorable, impactful, and filled with positivity. With open hearts and eager minds, together, we will embark on a remarkable voyage of growth and discovery.

Ms. Morgan Downing

K-5 Academic Technologist

"On the last day of highschool, my Humanities teacher, Mr. Dart, explained to my class that learning doesn’t stop once we graduate from high school or college, we are “lifelong learners.’” At the time, the saying felt too cheesy, too simple, but little did I know how correct it would be and how correct it is in my life today."

After high school, I attended American University (AU) in Washington D.C., where I majored in Strategic Communications and minored in Education Studies. I loved studying the impact that media - whether print or digital - has on our daily lives. With a focus on education, I interned at local education nonprofits and companies, building their messaging to the audience they intended to serve - students and teachers. Post-graduation from AU, I spent two years working in the communications department of  Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE), a D.C.-based education non-profit whose mission focused on empowering parents (a majority Black and Brown) to advocate for policy changes they wanted to see in the District’s education system. 

As much as I grew from my roles at PAVE, I knew my time in the classroom - as a student - was not yet complete. I was yearning to learn more about the design and structure tools I used in my day-to-day work, but even moreso, how kids could use these tools to advocate for and make change. In 2022, I was accepted to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in the Learning Design, Innovation, and Technology (LDIT) program. Over 11 months, I built my knowledge about the technological programs, tools, and lessons I could put into practice in both formal and informal learning spaces. 

I look forward to taking all the knowledge and ideas I gained from Harvard and implementing these in the classroom. However, I don’t intend to only teach the materials but I look forward to my students teaching me - and their support in strengthening my identity as a lifelong learner.

Mr. Jack Gustavson

Grade 1 Teacher

"Being part of a classroom community that prides itself on values important to education like respect, collaboration, and nurturing of curiosity is what excites me about being a first grade teacher at Potomac!"

When I arrived at The Potomac School for my first visit, I quickly realized I was in a special place that emphasized high standards for learning, community engagement, and helping one another. I feel so fortunate to get to teach first graders and watch them encounter and navigate new obstacles both in the classroom and as young children forming some of their earliest meaningful relationships.

Growing up the son of a Head of School, independent schools have always played an important role in my life. I attended independent schools in Massachusetts through my secondary education, playing soccer, hockey, and baseball. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2020, I knew I wanted to work with children and reciprocate the guidance and support I had received from my teachers as a child, completing a year-long teaching fellowship. The fellowship reaffirmed that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher and also showed me that I had a ways to go in learning how to provide my students with the best instruction I could give them. I then decided to pursue further education and graduated from the University of Virginia with a Master's Degree in Teaching Elementary Education in 2022 with a new foundation for how to teach and an excitement to get started. 

When I'm not teaching in the classroom, I am staying active at the gym, spending time with friends, or rooting for my favorite Boston and Michigan State sports teams. 

Mrs. Jackie Harper

Kindergarten Teacher

“Kindergarten children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn.  Everything is still possible.”

The opportunity to be a foundational part of a child’s educational development is so rewarding to me.  From an early age, I knew I wanted to be an educator. I devoted myself to early elementary education, first at Dartmouth College and then at UVA where I obtained my Master of Elementary Education. For the past 17 years, I was a first grade and then kindergarten teacher in Falls Church City before having the opportunity to teach at Potomac.  The second I stepped onto Potomac’s campus I felt a magical, positive energy and I knew I wanted to be a part of this incredible community. I love being the first teacher, in the formal school setting, that directly contributes to creating a child’s love and enthusiasm for learning. I get so much joy from connecting with students and building a solid foundation for lifelong learning.  In addition to teaching, I enjoy skiing (grew up as a ski racer), reading, and watching my kids play sports, including soccer, basketball, and lacrosse.  I am so excited to join the Kindergarten team at Potomac!

Ms. Carol Hilderbrand

K- 12 Chair of the Physical Education Dept. and LS/MS/IS PE Teacher & Coach

"The physical, social and emotional aspects of play keep us alive and connected to ourselves and our community."

Benjamin Franklin once said, "We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." The physical, social and emotional aspects of play keep us alive and connected to ourselves and our community. I knew early in my life that I wanted to be a teacher, but combining that desire with my love of play was a brainstorm. Growing up in New York City, I learned to think on my feet and create opportunities for play on the concrete playgrounds. After completing my master’s degree in teaching and curriculum design in physical education from Teachers College, Columbia University, I knew I was following my passion. And later in my career, earning National Board Certification in Early and Middle Childhood Physical Education reinforced it. After years of teaching, I still get excited when I see a child's eyes light up when he or she has learned a new skill. Creating lessons that instill in youngsters this love of movement and play for a lifetime of fun and good health continues to be my passion.

Mrs. Jenni Hoffmann

K-6 Chair of the Social Studies Department and Grade 2 Teacher

“Learning happens everywhere at Potomac, and my classroom’s door to the outdoors not only encourages the boundaries of my classroom to expand but also symbolizes the connection between the real world and the skills I teach daily.”

Practice curiosity daily! This is one of my favorite sayings in education. Learning happens everywhere at Potomac, and my classroom’s door to the outdoors not only encourages the boundaries of my classroom to expand but also symbolizes the connection between the real world and the skills I teach daily. Graduating from the University of Richmond and then moving on to receive my master’s degree in education from Lesley University helped shape my views and philosophy of education. But it was living and teaching overseas in a rural mountain town in Costa Rica that fueled my passion for diversity and experiential learning. My craft continues to be shaped and refined here at Potomac. I have been able to attend The Teachers College in New York multiple times and the NAIS Diversity Institute, and to trek in the Andean Highlands living with indigenous families collecting stories, photos and hands-on materials for my class. We are fostering lifelong learning here at Potomac, and I believe one of the best teaching tools out there is our ability as teachers to set that example for our students.

Ms. Lindsey Holm

Lower School Reading Specialist
I am so excited to embark on this part of my career at Potomac. The elementary school years are so critical to developing skilled and proficient readers. I feel lucky to join a community that so deeply values these important building blocks. A solid foundation provides the opportunity for such growth as children grow.
I have been a life ong educator in a variety of roles, in the classroom and out. I earned my degrees from University of Illinois and DePaul University. I taught and tutored in Chicago, New York, and now the DMV.
When I am not in the classroom, you can find me reading, biking, walking my dog, or more often, with my daughters. We love to spend time outdoors, at museums, or enjoying live theatre productions. I look forward to getting to know this special community!

Ms. Joanna Huang

Administrative Assistant to the Head of the Lower School

"I am happy to have found my niche and home here in the Lower School."

I am originally from the DC area, having grown up in Bethesda and Potomac, MD. I graduated from the Stone Ridge School in Bethesda and then received a bachelor’s degree in French and a marketing certificate in management studies from the University of Rochester. I went on to complete two more graduate degrees—I received my master's degree in business communication and public relations from European University in Paris, and I also completed a Master of Education in elementary education at The George Washington University.

In addition to having lived in Paris, I also spent time in Tours, France, and Taipei, Taiwan. I speak conversational French, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, and next I hope to learn Italian. Prior to beginning my position at Potomac, I worked in retail, public relations, teaching, and office management.

I love working with and being around children and have a 14-year-old daughter. I am happy to have found my niche and home here in the Lower School and am thankful that I get to build on my past work experience and combine my love of children and education each day at Potomac.

Mrs. Mahnaz Husain

Lower School Library Teacher and Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

"I love the time I spend in the classroom, bonding with my students, teaching them, and most valuably, learning from them."

I am so excited to embark on this new chapter of my teaching career! I remember creating my first classroom was when I was just seven years old by lining up my first batch of students, a collection of Snoopy toys, in front of a makeshift chalkboard. I taught Snoopy how to add double digit numbers, and Snoopy, in return, taught me important life lessons as I read numerous Peanuts comic strips and watched snippets of their movies. Snoopy and his gang taught me the importance of staying true to yourself, holding onto your determination, finding strength in friendships, and being able to laugh, not least of all at yourself.

After college, I ended up studying economics and finance. It seemed to be a practical way to go, but it was a huge detour from the discipline I truly loved. Once my eldest child was born, I left the workforce so I could spend all my time with her. When my three children were much older, I decided to refocus on my career, this time pursuing my passion for teaching. I love the time I spend in the classroom, bonding with my students, teaching them, and most valuably, learning from them. This reciprocity of teaching has lead to so many “aha” moments for me as my students and I fuel each other’s curiosity and cheer each other on.

I have spent the last seven years teaching third grade and am now delighted to be a part of the Potomac Lower School and experience more joy and learning as I bond with my new family of second graders! I hope to impart some of Snoopy’s wisdom to my class as we strive to be the best citizens, students, and classmates that we can be--all with a small dose of mischief and a heap of fun! 

Mr. Mike Hutton

Lower and Middle School Physical Education Teacher and Coach

"A good day is helping a kindergartner have success jumping rope for the first time or watching the girls varsity basketball team execute the offense with precision against Episcopal.

My favorite title is being called “Dad” by my daughters, Emily and Molly. Running a close second is teacher/coach to the students at Potomac. A good day is helping a kindergartner have success jumping rope for the first time or watching the girls varsity basketball team execute the offense with precision against Episcopal. In my spare time I torment myself by being a loyal Philadelphia Phillies, Eagles and 76ers fan.

Ms. Ann Ince-McKillop

Lower School Reading Specialist

"Working with, or on behalf of children, has always filled my heart."

Working with, and on behalf of children, has always filled my heart. While raising my two boys, I enjoyed freelancing for such organizations as the National Geographic Society and the City Dance Youth Outreach DREAM Program. As my boys began to spread their wings, I pursued a lifelong interest in education, joining the Lab School of Washington Tutor Training Program and discovering my love for working with young readers. I began working with the kindergarten team at Potomac in 2011, and in 2014, received my Master of Education in reading from the University of Virginia. I feel so lucky to be part of the Potomac kindergarten team. Collaborating with such talented and dedicated teachers is inspiring and rewarding. Developing reading skills and a love for literature in our youngest students brings joy everyday.

Mrs. Jasmine Jackson

Grade 2 Teacher & US Coach

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where all the magic happens”

My current teaching environment is an inclusive and community-centered education setting. I pride myself on having a personalized and student-centered classroom with a variety of learning models in order to reach every learner where they are, through authentic and innovative projects (which can get messy!) . I enjoy incorporating real-life connections to jobs and career fields through STEAM and digital projects where students discover endless possibilities through exploration. 

I went to college to earn my B.S. in Elementary Education (k-6) from Delaware State University while playing division 1 volleyball. Shortly after graduating and accepting my first teaching position in Loudoun County Public Schools over 6 years ago, I then went on to complete my M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction with Digital Design from George Mason University. 

When I am not in the classroom, you can find me on the volleyball court!  I am the Varsity Volleyball coach here at Potomac as well as a competitive travel coach in the area. My greatest joy has been starting my own youth volleyball training academy,  Virginia Rise Volleyball Academy. 

Mrs. Allison Lewkowicz

School Counselor (Grades K-4)

"I believe in promoting a school environment where all children feel supported and loved, kindness is the norm, and students learn to understand and regulate their emotions."

I love being a school counselor because I’m passionate about social emotional wellness. I feel lucky that in my role at Potomac I have the opportunity to support students’ growth as they navigate the joys and challenges of school.

Whether it’s through a children’s book, a game, or a mindful walk outdoors, I love finding fun ways to teach important life skills like empathy and resilience. It’s also great to connect with teachers and families as we collaborate to support students’ mental health and wellbeing. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy reading and attending workshops about child development, social emotional learning, and diversity, equity and inclusion, and I look for opportunities to learn from others to better support and advocate for students and families.

When I was growing up, my mom was a high school counselor, and I remember visiting her at work and seeing the difference she made for her students. The way she touched her students’ lives made such an impact on me, it’s no surprise that I decided to follow in her footsteps.

I studied psychology at Macalester College and received a graduate degree in counseling from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, I worked as a counselor at two independent schools in the DC area before spending the last six years as the elementary and middle school counselor at Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda. Throughout my time in local schools, I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the warmth of the Potomac School community. I’m so excited to be joining Potomac as the K-4 counselor!

I live in DC with my fiancé, Zack, and we enjoy hiking and traveling together. We have a goal of visiting all 63 National Parks in the country, and with about 20 visited so far, we have a lot to go! I also love watching baseball (go Nats!), gardening, baking, and photography. I can’t wait to share my love of learning and exploring as I get to know Potomac students and families.

Ms. Kathie Loving

Lower School Library Assistant

"After receiving a master's degree in library science at Catholic University, I found my niche as librarian at a county elementary school and then at Langley High School where I served as head librarian for the last 17 of my 20 years there."

I am happy to be working part-time in the Lower School library after retiring from Fairfax County Public Schools. Early in my career I taught preschool and second grade. After receiving a master's degree in library science at Catholic University, I found my niche as librarian at a county elementary school and then at Langley High School where I served as head librarian for the last 17 of my 20 years there.

Mr. Jason Lu

Teaching Fellow

"At The Potomac School, I am so excited to learn from the expert and talented educators, my other teaching fellows, and the students I work with every day!"

At Pomona College, I studied neuroscience, and through various activities such as mentoring classes, coaching swimming, and volunteering at Camp Kesem I discovered a passion for teaching. However, the most impactful experience, and what made me decide to pursue teaching, came in my senior year. I conducted an extensive research thesis that was focused on social media overuse and how it affects the brain, especially in adolescents. After that was completed, I designed and taught a course called "Social Media and the Brain: How It Harms and How to Help," to a biology section at Claremont High School. It was through this class and the other activities that I decided to explore a career in education. 

At The Potomac School, I am so excited to learn from the expert and talented educators, my other teaching fellows, and the students I work with every day! I hope the next two years are filled with adventures, learnings, and friendship. I am thrilled to be working at The Potomac School as a Teaching Fellow and cannot wait to see what the future holds!

In my free time, I enjoy being active and playing sports such as basketball, swimming, ultimate frisbee, tennis, and many others. In addition, I love to be outdoors while spending time with friends and family. 

Ms. Diana MacKenzie

Lower School Art Teacher

"It’s important for children to see that the adults around them are curious learners."

Creative thinking is like a muscle that must be exercised daily! As an art educator, I guide my students to grow and stretch these skills through enriching interdisciplinary art projects and experiences that bring the world of art into the classroom. Introducing children to a new medium, like binding a sketchbook or designing a papier-mâché sculpture, is the most rewarding part of my work in art education. I strive to design lessons that set up students for success but also motivate them to think critically and explore new artistic directions. My curriculum is centered on authenticity and creativity. I often use picture books as the springboard for my art lessons, and I encourage open-ended inquiry of materials with an emphasis on the learning process of creating art, rather than on the finished product.

When I’m not teaching, the activities that bring the most joy are my international travels, spending time in the mountains and on the water, and making my own art. I’m a mixed media artist, primarily creating works on paper and making sculptures with fabric or metal. I’ve exhibited my artwork in solo and group shows in Massachusetts, New York, and beyond. I have found it invaluable to my teaching practice to explore my own artistic interests outside of the classroom. It’s important for children to see that the adults around them are curious learners, and overcoming my own artistic obstacles makes me compassionate towards students when they get frustrated with a new technique.

I grew up on the coast of Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, where my childhood interests in writing stories, drawing, and spending time in nature flourished. After graduating from art school at Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking in 2005, I moved to Western Massachusetts to launch my career in art education. For nine years I had the unique opportunity designing and teaching workshops and classes in a variety of mediums to children, families, and teachers from across the country and around the world at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I served as an adjunct professor for two years teaching introductory printmaking at Springfield College in Springfield, MA. That role opened my eyes to even more possibilities in art education. I completed a Masters of Arts in Teaching and licensure in Visual Art grades pre-K through 12 from Mount Holyoke College in 2017. Since starting at Potomac, I've tried to take full advantage of the rich art and culture the DC area has to offer!

Mr. Calvin Mainor

Physical Education Teacher and Coach

"There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you” - Derek Jeter

As a teaching fellow, I am passionate, hardworking, and dedicated to teaching and coaching the craft of athleticism. This year, I will be teaching Lower and Middle Schoolers P.E. and coaching Intermediate and Upper Schoolers.

My love for sports began at a young age, when I played AAU basketbalI and had the opportunity to travel to various cities for games. I also played baseball and football growing up. My passion for sports crossed over to my adult life when I decided to major in sports management at Bowie State University. I believe that if you have the passion, the competitive spirit, and the athleticism, the sky is the limit of where a fulfilling career in sports can take you, and mine has brought me here.

It is a joy to teach and coach at The Potomac School, and I look forward to inspiring my students, being inspired by them, and helping them reach their full potentials at this pivotal stage in their lives.  

Anum Malik

Kindergarten Assistant Teacher and Assistant Director of Extended Day

Mrs. Barb Mays

Lower and Middle School Physical Education Teacher and Coach

"I love teaching and coaching and Potomac allows me to do both. I can be teaching first graders how to throw overhand in the morning, coaching an eighth grader on the finer points of how to shoot a layup in the afternoon and spending the evening explaining how our JV basketball team is going to execute a full court press. I love all of it!"

I am still an avid athlete and enjoy running, weight lifting and golf. I graduated from George Mason University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. My greatest accomplishments are rising triplets and pitching in three college world series while playing softball at George Mason.

Mr. Ross McEwen

Grade 3 Teacher and US Soccer Coach

"Teaching children in Lower School is a dream come true.  I never wanted to stop being a kid, and now I'm fortunate enough to immerse myself within energetic and creative personalities on a daily basis.  I wouldn't have it any other way."

I grew up in Littleton, CO and eventually went to school on the east coast.  I attended Westminster Prep School during high school, and then later played soccer and hockey at Colby College.  My mom was an educator and my dad a coach, so it's no surprise to me that I ended up teaching and coaching here at Potomac.  I began my journey as a Panther in 2004 as in intern, eventually getting my masters degree in 2006.  I have been teaching in Lower School and coaching the Girls Varsity Soccer team ever since!  My wife and I have 2 daughters, both of whom attend Potomac, so the "daddy bus" is often busy from September till June.  In my mind, Potomac is the perfect place for me and my family!

Mrs. Dorothy McIntire

Grade 1 Teacher

"It is the greatest joy to teach young children. Witnessing the curiosity, excitement and love of learning that children bring to the classroom every day, coupled with the opportunity to provide a strong foundation for future academic growth and social-emotional well-being is a privilege."

I have my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on the primary years and a triple licensure in teaching English as a second language, early childhood special education, and primary education.  I have served as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and as a specialist for students learning English over the years.  In my free time I enjoy teaching exercise classes, reading and spending time with my family.  I am thrilled to join the passionate and dedicated Potomac School faculty.

Ms. Jessie McKinney

Lower School Science Teacher

"As an educator, I strive to ignite and grow a student's curiosity through creating a learning environment that challenges them to question, wonder and grow as an individual."

Growing up along the river in Great Falls, the childhood moments I remember most are those of independent play and investigation watching schools of fish navigating the waters or creating islands of various sediment sizes. With Potomac's glass enclosed Lower School lab, outdoor science deck, and 90 acres of creeks, and biodiverse plant populations, students have a remarkable opportunity to truly immerse themselves in nature and science. As an educator, I strive to ignite and grow a student's curiosity through creating a learning environment that challenges them to question, wonder and grow as an individual.

Previous to joining The Potomac School community, I served in roles including, JK- 6 Science Department Head, JK- 5 science laboratory teacher, eighth grade environmental science teacher, middle school coach, Director of Outdoor Education, and Programming Director. I received my bachelor’s degree in environmental science and kinesiology from The College of William & Mary and my master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. 

>When not teaching, my husband and I have two active little boys and a Belgian Malinois that we enjoy taking on outdoor adventures including our trail running races and bike racing.

Mrs. Kirsi Mendoza

Kindergarten Teacher

"I love spending my days surrounded by the enthusiasm and curiosity of kindergarten students and collaborating and learning from my lower school colleagues."

I am thrilled to be a part of the Potomac community in the lower school as a kindergarten teacher. After graduating from the University of Richmond, I tried my hand in many different areas such as government relations and planning events for a non-profit, but the fit was not quite right. I think I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and my love of education drew me back to graduate school where I earned my Masters of Education at Marymount University. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my husband, our two daughters, and dog being outdoors and reading.

Ms. Michelle Michlik

Lower School Reading Specialist

"I grew up in a generation that used the term Language Arts and I have always believed that language is truly an art form.  Helping students use language successfully and effectively, whether writing, reading, or speaking has been a life passion of mine. "

In the early years of my teaching career, I completed my Master’s degree at American University as a part of Sally L. Smith's special education degree with a focus on learning disabilities. My time at the Lab School was a fulcrum to my understanding of language based learning differences and how to successfully support students that need both remediation or enrichment.  Understanding students’ strengths and needs guides my instruction and I revel in finding effective interventions to engage student learning in meaningful ways.

My other joys in life are my family, which consists of my husband, two teens and 3 four legged members - Hazel, Walter and Mabel. In my free time I enjoy time with my family most but I also make time to run theatre camps during the summer and holiday breaks and work with my eldest pup Hazel doing therapy work with youth centers of all sorts. 

Ms. Clare Morrissey

Grade 2 Teacher
For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to call The Potomac School “home” while working as a Teaching Fellow, assisting with both Middle and Lower School students. I have worked alongside many talented veteran educators here, not only in the classroom but also on the sidelines of soccer fields and swimming pools, and have learned from them and my students what it takes to create a classroom environment filled with joy, curiosity, and respect, and the effort involved to sustain it. I have also witnessed Potomac’s Core Values in every person I have interacted with inside and outside the classroom. I am now eager to take on my new role as a Second Grade teacher for this upcoming school year and feel so fortunate to be part of such a supportive community.
Since arriving at Potomac, I have helped students write about “small moments” in their lives. These are not long, drawn-out, stories about week-long vacations or an entire day of sports games. These writing pieces focus on very clear, concrete, moments in time that are important to our students and have left an impact on them. While assisting with the writing, revising, and publishing of these “small moments,” I came to see the value in making the most of all of the small moments that we have with students in our classrooms each day. I believe in taking the time to hear about the after school activities that our students are involved in, or reading a book in order to connect with a student on a particular topic of interest. Giving value to the impact we have on our students, whether the moments seem big or small to us, is how we can connect and create community together. I hope to leave a positive and lasting impact on all of my students and to create a learning community that allows them to feel heard and understood.
Prior to teaching at Potomac, I attended the University of Michigan, where I received my Bachelor in Elementary Education with a concentration in Social Studies. I am a DMV native, and am so grateful for the opportunities that Potomac has to offer with its close proximity to the nation’s capital. When I am not teaching, I love spending time with family and friends, reading, traveling, running, and just being outside as often as I can!

Ms. Michelle O'Hara Levin

Lower School Dean and Lower School Librarian

I am an educator and children's writer who adores good, old-fashioned childishness.

I come from a family of storytellers, so at an early age I learned to appreciate a belly laugh, a good cry, and a tall tale. Once upon a time, I taught kindergartners at Potomac and reveled with them in perpetual discovery and everyday magic. Today, I ADORE sharing books and a passion for stories with all the Lower School students.

When I'm not on campus, I write stories in Washington, DC, and have adventures with my husband, my two sons, and our sweet, energetic puppy. A southerner at heart, I graduated cum laude from Rice University and earned a Master of Education degree with high distinction from the University of Virginia. Before all that, I was a lifer at Potomac.

Here are some other fun facts about me (in no particular order): I try to learn one new thing each day. One day I hope to go to a Super Bowl, a World Cup game, the Kentucky Derby, and a NASCAR event. I love to bake (mostly because I love to eat baked goods!). My writing office is sometimes my dining room table, sometimes a sofa, sometimes a park bench, and sometimes my car. When possible I try to write at my writing desk, but that is tricky to arrange. I like watching sports live better than on televsion. For my entire life (except for the year I had chicken pox), I have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in DC with the same big, awesome extended family. I really, really do NOT like pickles. Even more than I don’t like pickles, I really DO like dark chocolate.

Mrs. Nadia Pardesi

Lower School Math Specialist and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator

"Being in the classroom and working alongside students energizes me and brings me great joy."

I have been an elementary educator for 13 years, with experience in both public and private schools. I love watching students explore through hands-on experiences, letting their curiosity and passions take the lead. I root my classroom in a growth mindset by reminding students that they are powerful, capable, and resilient.

Prior to joining Potomac, I was a third grade teacher at Francis W. Parker school, an independent school in Chicago. At Parker, I was also a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and a Students of Color Affinity Group Facilitator. In these roles, I worked alongside students, faculty, administration, and families to promote a school environment that was empathetic, inclusive, and equitable. I am devoted to creating anti-bias, anti-racist curriculum and take pride in cultivating culturally responsive classrooms.

During my freetime, I love to travel, cook and explore different cuisines, hike with my family, and work endlessly on puzzles!

Ms. Alex Passano

Grade 3 Teacher

As poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I love this idea as it relates to learning, reminding me of my commitment, as a teacher, to create space for academic exploration and growth each and every day. 

I believe that joy and levity hold enormous power in motivating a student’s learning and growth toward independence. As an educator, I strive to create a learning environment that promotes joy and sparks curiosity within each of my students. 

When successfully cultivated, I believe that joy, levity, and curiosity lend to infinite success in educating the whole student, both inside and outside the classroom. 

Before joining the Potomac community, I graduated from Vanderbilt University and worked  in the corporate world before pursuing a career in education. I spent several summers working in outdoor education, and it was these experiences that eventually led me into the classroom. More recently, I worked as a Second Grade Resident Teacher in the New Teacher’s Instituto at The Town School for Boys in San Francisco. I then worked in the DCPS system as a Kindergarten Teacher’s Aide at Barnard Elementary School, while also completing my Master of Arts in Educational Transformation at Georgetown University. Through these experiences I was able to collaborate with diverse individuals and communities to grow in my own teaching philosophy and skill set. 

Outside of school, I spend most of my free time with my family and my dog, Kibo. I love being outside and doing anything active!

Ms. Tessa Smalley

Grade 3 Teacher

"As a Potomac lifer, I feel so lucky and honored to start my teaching career at the very school that shaped me into the person I am today. "

After four years at Ohio Wesleyan University, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a minor in Psychology. With a certification in grades Pre-K through 3, I moved back to the Washington area to pursue my teaching career. Potomac's ability to shape young academic, social, and emotional minds is just one of the many reasons I returned back to the school I've always loved. A few things I enjoy doing in my downtime are drawing, painting, traveling, eating spaghetti, and going shopping!

Ms. Kristin Smith

Lower School Reading Specialist

"That moment a child finally puts all the pieces together to make sense of a book in his or her hands is a powerful one, and one that I am lucky enough to see on a regular basis."

I think I always knew I wanted to “grow up” to be a teacher. Whether that was because of the example many family members who were teachers set (my mother, my grandmother, an aunt, and an older cousin) or the fact that I had wonderful teachers who worked hard to understand who I was as student, I cannot say. However, I went off to college knowing that I wanted to leave with a teaching degree. After receiving an undergrad degree in elementary education with a specialization in early childhood and reading from Baylor University, I decided to go right back to school, but a little closer to home. I completed my master's in curriculum and instruction at the Curry School at The University of Virginia. While completing the last few hours of my master’s program, I moved back home to Fairfax County and worked at The Potomac School as a Lower School intern. It was an amazing experience for me, and teaching alongside such a caring, creative, and dedicated faculty made it hard to leave at the end of the year. After teaching first grade at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School for three years, I was thrilled to be able to return to Potomac, where I have been teaching first grade since 2003. I feel so lucky to be a part of the Potomac community and to spend my days watching my young students learn to read, write, and problem solve. That moment a child finally puts all the pieces together to make sense of a book in his or her hands is a powerful one, and one that I am lucky enough to see on a regular basis. I can’t think of anything else that I would rather do.

When I’m not at school, I’m busy reading, spending time with friends, visiting my sister and her two adorable boys in Georgia, visiting my parents in Charlottesville where I often have the opportunity to catch a football or basketball game, and spending time on or near the water. I also enjoy skiing – both water skiing and snow skiing – and having been doing both since I was a first grader!

Mrs. Sarah Tiamiyu

Director of Learning Support (Grades K-6)

I am a firm believer that “we can teach from experience, but we cannot teach experience.”

Learning is an adventurous encounter! It is why I am a glutton for it. My over 20 years of learning experiences includes, a combined Elementary/Special Education Degree from the University of Alberta, graduate studies specializing in Elementary Mathematics from the University of Toronto, and an array of immersive professional development opportunities including Project Zero - Harvard, The Project Based Learning Coaching Institute – Napa and most recently the Columbia Coaching Certification Program from Columbia University.

I am originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My childhood was spent sitting atop the Rocky Mountains of Banff and Jasper, ultimately instilling an insatiable curiosity for the world around us. As an inclusive educator I take pride in casting a wide net, and see all growth edges as learning opportunities for enrichment and advancement. I am a Responsive Classroom Educator and Consultant which promotes a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching.

In my time off campus, my husband Josh and I are carefully noticing the world with our daughter Bianca (Potomac Class of 2033) a budding entomologist. We are a multinational family with roots in San Francisco, Nigeria, Toronto and the Ukraine.

Ms. Joy Webster

K-12 Director of Service Learning

"Teaching truly is my joy and passion, and I have found a home alongside many other passionate educators at Potomac."

Teaching truly is my joy and passion, and I have found a home alongside many other passionate educators at Potomac. My journey as a teacher began in Cedarville, Ohio, where I graduated from Cedarville University in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Upon completion, I moved home to St. Petersburg, FL, where I taught third grade in the independent school where I had grown up. In 2003, my journey led me to an independent school in Maryland where I once again taught third grade while also beginning work on my master's degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Maryland. It has been a privilege to serve as grade five teacher at Potomac since 2008. When not in the classroom, I enjoy traveling to far-off places, reading a good book, heading home to the beaches of Florida, or golfing.

Ms. Christine Zecher

Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

"Let what you love be what you do."  - Rumi

For the past 12 years, I have had the privilege of supporting students' educational growth in both special education and kindergarten classrooms.  I'm thrilled to bring my love of teaching and creativity to the Potomac School community.  Working with our youngest learners is a gift - their joy and curiosity are contagious!  Truly, there are no bad days in Kindergarten! 

Before teaching, I owned a fashion accessory business and worked on marketing campaigns for nonprofits, publishers, and Nordstrom.  I hold a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the State University of New York - Fashion Institute of Technology.

When I'm not in the classroom, you can find me designing jewelry, riding my Peloton, tailgating at UVA, or snuggling with my toy poodle, Gelato.