Tell Me Something, Traci Townsend
Tell Me Something will replace the Five Questions feature story. Our employees do interesting, often amazing, things and we want to highlight their achievements and accomplishments. Tell Me Something will still take a look behind the scenes at the lives and jobs of your colleagues, though let’s be honest, we’re asking way more than five questions. Hopefully, we will still all learn something we didn’t know.
Traci Townsend starts her weekdays at 4 a.m.
Townsend, the principal of the new Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington, heads to her basement workout room and spends 40 minutes exercising, mostly strength training. To stay motivated and accountable, she often videotapes herself and posts the clips on social media. She says she regularly began working out as she was preparing to turn 50.
“I had exercised off and on for years, but that was when I said, ‘I’m ready to take care of myself consistently. This is my time.'”
Townsend says the early morning workouts energize her and get her ready to start the day. These past few months, her days have been filled with welcoming staff and students to Silver Creek, which just opened on the first day of school.
Now in her 29th year at MCPS, Townsend was appointed principal at Silver Creek in December 2016. She came to the school from Earle B. Wood Middle School, where she was in her seventh year. The last four, she had been principal.
“I was very happy there,” she says. “Wood was my home. When this opportunity came up, I thought about it and thought, ‘No Traci, why would you do that? You’re in an established community. You know everyone. Everyone knows you. You know the school’s trajectory. You’re on a path.’
“But maybe those are the same reasons to try something new. Because it’s something new. … This is an opportunity that every educator would love. Everyone I interviewed talked about opening a new building. You’ll always be a part of opening the new school building. I thought about the kids and how excited they would be. Just forming those relationships will be fun.”
Rabbits, Reptiles and Mice, Oh My!
Townsend grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of four (with three older brothers). Her father worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and her mother held various jobs. She attended Miami (Ohio) University, deciding to study English before quickly realizing that was not for her. She switched over to biology and never looked back.
“I had a great biology teacher in high school, Mr. Mattingly,” she said. “He had a rabbit that hopped around the class and snakes in the back of the classroom. He fed them mice, which he bred across the hall in a storage area. He had all kinds of reptiles and snapping turtles, which you could hear as they walked across the rocks in the baby pool. That’s where it all started for me.”
After she graduated, she relocated to Maryland and, in 1989, got a job teaching biology at Gaithersburg High School, where she eventually spent 21 years. She moved into administration as an assistant principal in her 14th year.
“I loved being in the classroom,” she said. “What I liked most was the relationships you can build with the kids. You think about yourself at that age and what you needed then. You needed to feel like you were cared for, that you were a part of something. … You’ve got to form relationships so that kids want to listen to you. The more they listen, the more they learn.”
“It was hard going into administration for me,” she continued. “I did not like it the first two years. I had to deal with a lot of conflict. You don’t have to deal with conflict so much as a teacher. It was very different. After that, things just got better.”
Still, nothing could prepare her for opening a new school.
“Up until May, things were moving along seamlessly. After that, it was full speed ahead. It wasn’t bad; there was just a lot happening at one time. And things keep coming. You don’t realize how much you took forgranted being in an established school—processes and procedures, expectations and relationships. You want to do things the Silver Creek way.”
MCPS’ 40th middle school opened with more than 155,000 square feet and features 11 laboratories for technology, computers and science; four project rooms; special education classrooms and support spaces. The school opened with about 65 staff members, including 45 professional staff for its more than 550 6th and 7th grade students. Silver Creek’s students are coming from Chevy Chase, North Chevy Chase and Rock Creek Forest elementary schools, and a small group from Westland Middle School.
“I’ve been to all of the feeder schools and met with students,” Townsend said. “That was really, really fun. During the summer, we had socials with the parents. That gave us a real chance to form community. Everyone has been so welcoming. … The energy and the effort is going to be so worthwhile when the kids come on Sept. 5. The benefits will outweigh any of the sleepless nights.
“I’m right where I want to be.”
Tell Me More
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Family: Married to DuWayne Townsend; daughter Danielle, a senior at George Mason University
Lives in: Leesburg, Va.
One thing you cannot live without: My dog Ginger
First job: Working retail at The Limited. I hated it.
Favorite movie: Action movies. Shoot ‘em up, fast car driving movies. I love the ones where you are holding your breath the whole time.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be: Swim
What three traits define you: Loyal, organized, friendly
What other career would you try for a day: Acting