Former state superintendent of schools
Maryland State Department of Education
I grew up a child of poverty and a product of public schools. My teachers helped shape my belief that every child should be inspired to dream and given the tools to make those dreams a reality. It is our job to provide them with the strong foundation upon which to build that future.
Across a career in public education that spans more than three decades, Dr. Lillian Lowery held one position that doesn’t exist in most school systems: minority student achievement monitor.
This role helped Lowery, who spent 17 years as a classroom teacher and grew up as a child of poverty in the Southeast, maintain a laser-like focus on students — particularly those most vulnerable to inequity — as she rose through the administrative ranks.
As one former colleague put it, with Lowery, “it doesn't matter if it's a conversation about budget, about policy; it all circles back to ‘How does it improve kids' ability to learn?’”
“Throughout my professional journey,” Lowery said, “the aims for me have been consistent: To set high goals and expectations for everyone, to promote the belief that effort increases ability and to move schools and students from good to great.”
Lowery’s 2012 appointment as Maryland’s superintendent of schools put her in charge of one of the nation’s highest performing state school systems. She spent her first year listening to parents, students, educators and community leaders throughout the entire state and put in at least two trips to every county, quickly identifying the biggest needs. What she found was that while state-by-state rankings may have suggested that everything was working well, it wasn’t. In fact, more than half of all Maryland students required remediation once they started college.
Lowery’s improvement plan focused on implementing a more rigorous set of college and career-ready learning standards and providing teachers with strong professional development so they are prepared to help their students meet these higher expectations.
“Maryland did not reach its national ranking by standing still, and we will not provide our students with a world-class education by resting on our prior achievements,” she said.
Before taking the post in Maryland, she served as Delaware’s education secretary, where her ability to bridge differences helped the state win one of the first two federal “Race to the Top” grants in 2010. She spearheaded the planning process for that grant, bringing together disparate interest groups around a common vision for Delaware as a leader in K-12 public education.
To be an effective leader, Lowery believes in building strong partnerships and learning from others as she works to improve her own system. “The decision to leave the classroom was one of the most agonizing decisions that I have ever made,” she said. “But what I have learned along the way is, once a teacher, always a teacher. It’s just that now my students include adult learners, and we learn together.”
Began her career as a public school teacher and principal
Area superintendent, Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools
Delaware secretary of education
Maryland state superintendent of schools