Up Close and Personal With Dr. Lowerre

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Up Close and Personal With Dr. Lowerre

Dr. Robert C. Lowerre in his office.  Photo: Gabbi Bright.

Dr. Robert C. Lowerre in his office. Photo: Gabbi Bright.

Dr. Robert C. Lowerre in his office. Photo: Gabbi Bright.

Dr. Robert C. Lowerre in his office. Photo: Gabbi Bright.

Kamya Sanjay, Editor-In-Chief

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I’ve had the privilege of speaking face to face with the two most recent directors of Maggie Walker for various school paper-related endeavours. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr Robert C. Lowerre, who will celebrate 3 months with Maggie Walker come October. As a student and active member of the Maggie Walker community, I was interested as to how Dr. Lowerre would approach the idea of open lines of communication, and whether or not he would break the mold of belonging to an allegedly inaccessible and abstruse administration. I soon discovered that Dr. Lowerre wishes to place an emphasis on a spirit of communication and trust (something that I am sure many students will find inexplicably gratifying). He additionally shed some light on what he believes to be our community’s greatest strengths and weaknesses- and explained how he hopes that individual students will find their places in society and aspire to continuously reinvent themselves.

“[Maggie Walker is] completely different than anything I’ve ever seen,” began Dr. Lowerre. “Students are remarkable in the sense that we can give them all this freedom and they can handle it.” He explained his first impression of our school in relation to others; no matter where you go, there will be a certain percentage of the school population that is loath to attend. But, as he claimed, “The impression that I have gotten is that people want to be here. And that’s huge.” Dr. Lowerre’s appreciation for the academic culture of Maggie Walker- and the way the school values creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and constant paradigm shifts- comes from a very personal place. In the second grade, he was labeled “gifted and talented,” and grew up in NoVa where “the question was never ARE you going to college, it was WHERE are you going to college.” He believes he would have fit in very well at a Maggie Walker, if such a school had existed in his time, so his personal experiences have shaped his view on the absolute necessity of such an institution.

Dr. Lowerre worked many jobs before he began teaching. He later moved into the world of administration and did some of his most impactful work at Virginia Randolph Community High School. He described it as a “specialty school, just like Maggie Walker, but with an entirely different focus and clientele.” Dr. Lowerre built character while serving a principal at Virginia Randolph, and learned something that he considers a core tenet of his personal ideology today- you cannot judge people by looking at them, and you cannot even judge people by talking to them. You do not know what they’re going home to.

After 10 years Dr. Lowerre took his experience to John Randolph Tucker high school, which he described as a breath of fresh air. I could sense his attachment to the school as he spoke about the school and its student body and faculty, but most strongly when he shared an anecdote with me. “Leaving Tucker was very, very difficult,” he said. “Last night [referring to the night before our conversation] Maggie Walker played volleyball against Tucker, I came in early this morning and there was a note under my door.” He walked over to his desk and picked up a piece of paper that had pride of place, right where he could see it. He slid it over to me, and I read it out loud. Someone had scratched out words on a piece of paper, but the thought behind the message was evident. The Tucker students who had written it had even taken the time to find his office, something Maggie Walker students have a hard time doing! “We’re still trying to make it a great day but the choice is more difficult without you on campus,” read the note. “When I did the morning announcements at Tucker, I always used to say, ‘make it a great day or not, the choice is yours,’” Dr. Lowerre explained.

It was through this moment that I could clearly foresee the bond Dr. Lowerre wants to create with students. He later expanded upon this idea of mine. “I have no burning desire to be a central office person,” he confessed. “I didn’t go in that direction. I really would like this to be my last job. I want to be happy, and this job makes me happy. I’ve never been driven by money, and since I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere, I want to make what I’m doing worthwhile.” He prioritizes communication with students and wants all individuals to know that he is open to suggestion, revision, and reinvention of Maggie Walker ideals. To me, this was refreshing.

But despite the praise Dr. Lowerre clearly harbours for Maggie Walker and its student body, he had a few suggestions to share with me. Ultimately, he wants to preserve the student culture at Maggie Walker and raise a healthy academic culture rather than one that proves to be detrimental to mental health and student happiness. “We have become very geared towards scores, ranking, dual enrollment offerings, and to a certain sense we have maybe drifted away from what the original goal was- which was to really provide an environment for gifted and talented kids to thrive and flourish,” he said. Dr. Lowerre believes that his introduction to the community has been strategic, and he believes that he can restore the Maggie Walker spirit to a state of glory. “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I was hired for a reason. They felt that at this particular time in Maggie Walker’s history they needed someone who is big on communication. My strength is engaging stakeholders to want to do things,” he explained. “I want people to maximize their potential, to be happy, to explore things, to not be boxed in, to not be so stressed out to notice that we are right across the street from a really good donut shop.”

However, Dr. Lowerre did not wish to share any definitive solutions to Maggie Walker’s problems at the moment- and for a valid reason. “They want you to lead, to be risky, and to try things,” he said, speaking about his appointment to the director position. “I’m trying to understand all the stakeholders at the table. I’ve got seven different advisory committees…although everyone there wants what’s best for their students, sometimes they have competing interests. What I’m trying to do right now is see what board I have right now and what resources I have before I decide what I want to do.” Dr. Lowerre also claimed that one of his biggest pet peeves comes from unfulfilled promises, so in order not to fall into the trap of hypocrisy, he said that he wishes to keep his focus broad.

Towards the end of our time together Dr. Lowerre and I strayed from the common path and onto what some would consider “a road less traveled” with a member of the administration- I let go of my interview questions and we spoke of the heart of the school. Ultimately, Dr. Lowerre wants us, as members of the community, to strive towards personal growth as he works to optimize our Maggie Walker experience. In our interview he called himself a pragmatist, saying that he roots himself in reality, but always believes that he can do better. And that’s the sentiment that he believes we can all strive for.

As a deeply invested member of the unparalleled intellectuality and the student culture and the vibrancy that makes up Maggie Walker, my biggest concern for our future lies in preserving the beauty and legitimacy of the place- it lies in making the Maggie Walker experience enriching and life changing for future generations. I would not doubt that my peers feel the same. It turns out that Dr. Lowerre understands. “Regardless of whether you believe we’re coming back or not, your particular time on this planet is finite. What do you want to have come out of that? What’s important to you?” He postulated to me, “You have a responsibility to contribute to the community, whether through the paper or just by you being you.” As he approaches his tenure with the mindset of making this job his last, he wishes to return again and again to a single question- WHAT IS IT THAT MAGGIE WALKER CAN DO THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN? “This is an amazing place,” said Dr. Lowerre, “and we would be doing ourselves a tremendous disservice if we allowed it to slip.”

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