Dr. Lillian Lowery: Leader, Educator, and Lifelong Advocate for Equity

April 15, 2022

Former board chair of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching served from 2014 to 2021

On April 13, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching former Board Chair Dr. Lillian Lowery passed away at age 67. Educator, consensus builder, and leader, her work was defined by her unwavering advocacy for students at the local, state, and federal levels. Among the first students to integrate North Carolina schools, she was inspired to teach by her 10th grade English teacher. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English education from North Carolina Central University, a master’s degree in education in curriculum and instruction from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a doctorate of education in educational leadership and policy from Virginia Polytechnic and State University.

“Lillian was a bright, brilliant light,” says Carnegie President Timothy Knowles. “She lived a transformative life—marked by unparalleled generosity, vision, and love. Her singular interest was always what is best and just for children. We are all extraordinarily lucky to have had Lillian in our firmament.”

Dr. Lowery began her educational career as a middle school English teacher in her hometown of Gastonia, NC, then served as a principal, associate district superintendent and superintendent, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Education, and Superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education. She resigned her superintendency in 2015 to become the first President and Chief Executive Officer of FutureReady Columbus and subsequently the Vice President for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at the Education Trust, followed by Vice President of Student and Teacher Assessments at the Educational Testing Service in 2018. Dr. Lowery joined the Carnegie Board in 2014.

“Lillian Lowery’s message to the Carnegie board was always ‘Let’s not forget that we do this for the children.’ And she never did,” said current Board Chair Diane Tavenner. “Her leadership—both graceful and powerful—always led us to a place focused on serving children. She was a respected and revered leader and mentor to many educators, but her heart was always with the children.”

Dr. Lowery’s leadership of the Carnegie Board was instrumental to the Foundation’s work to introduce improvement science nationwide to address America’s fundamental educational equity challenges. In the last year, Dr. Lowery led the trustees to identify and adopt new strategic priorities designed to address educational, racial, and economic justice.

“America has lost one of its most committed public educators,” said former Carnegie President Anthony Bryk. “She deeply believed in and supported the mission of the Foundation: Working side by side with our nation’s educators to improve how our schools better engage and educate every child. She was the Board chair you always hope for—an empathetic voice, a wise head, and a deeply committed heart. She was my guide as the Foundation navigated through those most challenging early days as the pandemic took hold. She was a wonderful colleague and a most supportive friend. We will miss her.”

From Dr. Lowery’s commitment to improving educational outcomes came her powerful advocacy to increase the number of teachers of color. As she told President Knowles in a conversation last year, “If a child of color has just one teacher of color in elementary school, just one, especially black males to black males, graduation rates go up, absenteeism falls, and academic achievement improves because they see what is possible, because they see themselves in leadership positions, guiding, teaching, and learning, setting aspirations, setting hopes, and (setting) the expectation.”

“Lillian’s extraordinary spirit, unparalleled dedication to making the world a better one for children, and her impact on thousands of educators and millions of children was her gift to us all. May her legacy guide us, fuel us, and keep us on course,” said Knowles.

The mission of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is to catalyze transformational change in education so that every student has the opportunity to live a healthy, dignified, and fulfilling life.