Lillian Lowery came to Delaware in March 2006, taking the helm of the 17,000-student and 2,200-employee Christina School District.
An expert in doing more with little, Lowery led the state’s largest school district out of a $28 million budget deficit. She caught the eye of educators in the community after managing to squeeze through scarce financial resources at the time as one of her first acts as superintendent of the Christina School District.
Back then, Lowery called it her “best personal and professional experience,” when she spoke with Delaware Online/The News Journal.
She worked in the Christina School District for three years before taking the position of secretary for the Delaware Department of Education in 2009. During her many years working in the field, Lowery brought significant changes to the public education system in Delaware by securing necessary state funding even during harsh economic conditions, making an impact on more than 120,000 students.
Lowery, 67, died last week. Her family announced her death on her LinkedIn profile on Thursday. Additional details were not immediately available.
“Dr. Lowery was a passionate leader and will be remembered for the contributions she made to the field of education and the thousands of students she served,” the family wrote.
Educators around the state and country expressed sorrow and praised Lowery for her leadership and contribution to the field.
“Her passion for the education and equity of all students was unmatched,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote on Twitter. “She was a giant in our field and she will be missed.”
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Lowery worked relentlessly to better the educational system and often publicly spoke about educating children in a manner that enabled them to compete in the global economy.
When she joined the district in 2006, Lowery led Christina for three years and brought it out of financial disarray after the state was forced to give them a multi-million dollar emergency loan. In a short span of time, she restored the district’s education system, but it was no stroll in the park.
In order to regain solvency, Lowery had to make several difficult decisions from day one, including eliminating over 67 teachers and five nurses and enforcing a strict spending freeze, all while the state closely monitored the district’s finances.
“She could have run when she came to Christina because she had no idea what she was getting herself into,” the former secretary of the Delaware Department of Education, Valerie Woodruff, said when Lowery was nominated for secretary in 2009. “But she was there and stuck it out and kept the focus on what was best for the kids.”
Lowery was appointed by then-Gov. Jack Markell to serve as the secretary of the Delaware Department of Education. Her nomination drew statewide approval from school reform advocates who saw her as supportive of progressive efforts to improve Delaware’s public school system.
As secretary, Lowery facilitated statewide strategic planning and actively advocated for programs to improve the state schooling system such as the Vision 2015 plan. The plan consisted of a series of recommendations to improve public schooling but failed to secure any state funding prior to Lowery’s arrival.
Today, more than 75% of the Vision 2015 plan’s recommendations are implemented in the state education system.
As part of the plan, Lowery led a multi-state initiative and developed a Delaware Growth Assessment Pilot Program which received national media attention in 2008. The program aimed at creating a secure bank of test questions that can be shared, enabling Delaware and other states to easily upgrade the student assessments and reduce annual operating costs.
The Delaware Department of Education remembered Lowery as “a strong advocate for improving educational opportunities for students,” in a statement released by the department.
“Under her leadership, Delaware was one of the first two states to win a federal race to the Top Grant, which brought a $119 million federal investment to support Delaware schools and increase student learning,” the department said. “She was a well-respected leader and mentor for many, and our thoughts are with her friends and family during this difficult time.”
Former Delaware Gov. Markell also expressed his sorrow over Lowery’s death.
“Lillian was a gem of a person as well as a fabulous leader,” Markell wrote in a tweet. “A huge loss. So proud to have served with her.”
Lowery left Delaware in 2012 to work as the state superintendent of schools in Maryland, a position she held until 2015.
That same year, she was named Policy Leader of the Year by the National Association of State Boards of Education, an honor that is given to policymakers or administrators who have made a significant impact on national or state education policy and education systems.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said that Lowery was “the best Superintendent of Schools that Maryland ever had.” She was “admired by her peers,” he wrote on Twitter.
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Lowery went on to become the first CEO of the educational nonprofit organization FutureReady Columbus in 2015. Most recently, she served as the vice president of the New Jersey-based nonprofit Educational Testing Service, which conducts student and teacher assessments.
Before coming to Delaware, Lowery was the assistant superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia. She held other administrative positions in Fairfax County and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
She was a native of Gastonia, North Carolina and stayed local to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English education from North Carolina Central University in 1976. She went on to get her master’s degree in education in curriculum and instruction from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1978 and began her educational career teaching English to middle and high school students in Virginia and North Carolina.
After the news of her death, Lowery’s LinkedIn profile was inundated with comments from friends, colleagues and people whom she had mentored in the past.
This included Ted Jarrell, who worked with Lowery when she was the Christiana School District superintendent.
“She was a great person and a dedicated educator,” he wrote. “She will be missed.”
Contact the reporter Yusra Asif at email@example.com.