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Dr. Robert Lowerre Appointed New MLWGS Director

The current principal of J.R. Tucker High School will begin his tenure at MLWGS this summer.

Dr.+Lowerre+will+bring+a+candid+sense+of+humor%2C+appreciation+for+communication%2C+and+love+of+%27Harry+Potter%27+to+his+new+role+as+the+director+of+MLWGS.
Dr. Lowerre will bring a candid sense of humor, appreciation for communication, and love of 'Harry Potter' to his new role as the director of MLWGS.

Dr. Lowerre will bring a candid sense of humor, appreciation for communication, and love of 'Harry Potter' to his new role as the director of MLWGS.

Dr. Lowerre will bring a candid sense of humor, appreciation for communication, and love of 'Harry Potter' to his new role as the director of MLWGS.

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After a nearly five month search process, the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Board has appointed Dr. Robert C. Lowerre as the school’s new director. On July 1, Dr. Lowerre will officially take the place of interim director Dr. Jonathan Lewis, who stepped in after the retirement of Dr. Jeff McGee in November 2016.

In his introduction of the new director at a Maggie Walker faculty meeting on Tuesday, April 4, school board chairman John Axselle described a thorough search process that involved “focus groups… surveys… and a plethora of advertising, both national and international.” The search yielded several qualified candidates, but Axselle noted that “even with the exhaustive search, sometimes the best person for the job is relatively close by.”

Indeed, new director Dr. Lowerre currently serves as the principal of J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico County. Dr. Lowerre began his career in the Henrico County school system in 1995, and worked at the head of Virginia Randolph Community High School in Glen Allen from 2002 to 2012.

Dr. Lowerre describes his exposure to the Maggie Walker community thus far as limited yet memorable. “When I was getting my PhD I had classes in the adjunct classroom here, and I remember going into the cafeteria where the vending machines were, and there were several Maggie Walker students in there having a very heated argument in French,” Dr. Lowerre said, “I just thought… wow.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Lowerre feels eager to work with a school focused primarily on gifted education. “Working with motivated, self-directed students is absolutely exciting to me,” Dr. Lowerre told the Jabberwock, “The idea that you could build a community where students are heavily involved in the shape and direction of their learning… it’s what every educator dreams of.”

In addition, Dr. Lowerre feels that his experience as head of J.R. Tucker High School has taught him many valuable lessons about the importance of student input and participation. “High school students are pretty smart anywhere, and I think sometimes we don’t give them as much credit as we should in terms of what they can come up with,” he said, “Adults need to be less fearful of giving some control up. I’ve learned at Tucker that having a student advisory committee is a good thing.”

Even in moments of disagreement, Dr. Lowerre says he prioritizes honest and candid communication, “There are times when students want something that you just can’t give them… but sit down and explain it to them, help them understand why, not just ‘because I said so,’” he noted, “The reality in life is that we can’t always get what we want, but we feel a lot better about it if we know why.”

Accessibility and visibility are also important goals for Dr. Lowerre as he looks towards his tenure at Maggie Walker. “I’m not totally sure what the boundaries of my job are yet, but if they don’t involve being in the classroom like everyday, we’re going to have to change the boundaries,” said Lowerre, “I have to work with students, or I will lose my mind.”

As a student himself, Dr. Lowerre had some experience with gifted education, but says he would have enjoyed coming to a place like Maggie Walker. “I was identified when I was in the third grade and they shipped me off to a special elementary school where we had a little gang of kids having tenth and eleventh grade conversations in fourth grade,” he said, “A place like this would have been amazing. I would have been at a Maggie Walker.”

Due to these experiences, Lowerre says he identifies with the mission of the school, but sees ways in which it might be faltering. “[Gifted students] think differently, we feel differently, we want different things, and we’re not all driven to take fourteen AP classes. Part of what Maggie Walker was set up to be was to be a place where all of these different gifted and talented kids could thrive,” he said, “If we’re taking all of these kids and jamming them into the same box, then we are on some level failing what the original intention was.”

Though Lowerre approaches this experience not trying to “fix anything,” he does notice certain challenges on the horizon for Maggie Walker. “If we don’t figure out how to make some changes, we’re going to lose our relevance. There are too many competing programs and schools around us,” he said, “We want to be a special place where kids with gifted and talented abilities an go and fit in and be happy and be successful and be driven, but if we’re not careful, we’re just going to become a jacked up AP factory.”

In regards to the issue of stress and rigor at Maggie Walker, Lowerre says it’s important to find a balance between different concerns. “The business about over-stressing students I am very passionate about… I’m so glad we don’t have class rank here, because I’ve been fighting that in Henrico for five years and losing miserably,” Lowerre said. “High school is great, but it’s supposed to be fun. I worry when I hear kids talking about the two and a half hours of sleep they got last night, or kids are skipping class hanging out in the stairwell doing homework.” Overall, however, “there needs to be a balance. It can’t be driven by one side or the other.”

The idea of finding a balanced, common ground informs many aspects of Lowerre’s leadership style. Maggie Walker’s director is responsible for managing the competing interests of many different school districts, as well as students, parents, and faculty. Lowerre believes that many issues can be resolved by focusing on finding areas of agreement. “When we’re working through these things we start with what we agree on. You’ll find we agree on eighty-five percent, but if you look at it the other way you’ll never get past the fifteen percent that you disagree on.”

Overall, Lowerre is looking forward to getting to know members of the Maggie Walker community. “As an educator, the best, most informative conversations I have are on the sidewalks, in the cafeteria, after school at a robotics thing on a Saturday,” he said. He’s also looking forward to letting the Maggie Walker community get to know him. “I’m a huge Harry Potter fan,” Lowerre shared. So huge, in fact, he even has a Deathly Hallows tattoo. “I told my daughter, ‘I tell you what, we read these seven books and I’ll get a Harry Potter tattoo,” Lowerre said laughing. It’s this kind of attitude that makes Lowerre excited to take on the role of MLWGS director come summer. “I would have been here, in the right day and time,” he said, “so I understand it.”

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