Originally from Huron, South Dakota, Lowery followed in her father and grandfather’s footsteps by becoming an educator. She holds an undergraduate degree in secondary math education from Dakota Wesleyan and a master’s in educational psychology focused on psychometrics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

After teaching high school math at Aberdeen Central for six years, Lowery was hired as the principal and district curriculum director for the Tea Area School District in 2011. Shortly after, she was asked to be the interim superintendent, which quickly turned into a full-time role.

During this time, Lowery simultaneously earned an Ed.S. and Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota’s School of Education Division of Educational Leadership, all while she was in her late 20s and early 30s.

“There was a 10-year period where I was incredibly goal driven in order to get my master’s, specialists and doctorate,” said Lowery. “I had two kids. I became the superintendent for the Tea Area School District. I had to say, ‘Okay now what?’ I took a deep breath because I realized I still had a lot of time left. So, I redefined my purpose. The purpose of my life is to pay it forward for others to be their best self and to model servant leadership for my children and community.”

In addition to Lowery’s professional growth, the Tea Area School District has grown immensely in the last 10 years.

According to Lowery, the district has grown by over 1,000 students. To accommodate that growth, the district built 78 elementary school classrooms, and it is doubling the size of the high school with an 80,000-square-foot addition.

“Our community approved over $60 million in additional taxes to fund the growth, structures, purpose and vision of the schools,” said Lowery. “That’s an incredibly powerful sentiment to the school board and the community.”

The most impactful part of being a leader during this time, Lowery said, has been the fact that she got to do it with and for her own children.

“My oldest is a sophomore now, and when he was in third grade, we had stick buildings instead of classrooms. There wasn’t even running water in those buildings,” she said. “I remember holding his hand and walking into the new addition – which was Legacy Elementary – when we were no longer using modular classrooms. He said, ‘Mom, it’s pretty cool that I get to be the first person to ever learn in this classroom.’ That was more impactful to me more than anything else.”

Lowery’s driven nature and commitment to excellence has not gone unnoticed. In 2023, she was named South Dakota’s Superintendent of the Year.

Now as an experienced superintendent and adjunct professor at USD, Lowery hopes to serve as a mentor like those who came before her.

“I think there’s a unique opportunity in this stage of my life to pay it forward to others,” said Lowery. “There were so many times I was a superintendent at 29 and 30 years old, where I just had to call and ask other people for help. Now in my 40s, I hope I can be that person for others.”

We asked Lowery about her role as superintendent, how she supports teachers and more. This is what she had to say.

Why did you choose USD to advance your education?

My father and grandfather are alumni. My program also had an online component, so as a young mom who wanted to be present for her growing kids, it gave me an avenue to earn my degree and grow.

If you’re going to be a school administrator, the USD School of Education has an edge on the market.

What does a day in the life look like for a superintendent?

No day is the same, but I find myself in a tremendous number of meetings, many of which I consider coaching meetings. My Mondays are often spent with principals and district administrators, and we look at where we’re at and how we’re moving forward as a team.

Most of my days are spent troubleshooting, providing feedback and listening. My month is set up purposefully to get me into buildings and to connect with students and the administrators in those buildings. There’s a rhythm to both the year and the month to connect and help people.

Something that’s unique about being superintendent is the connection to community, state leaders, and legislators as we work on community and state-level projects.

What’s your favorite part about being a superintendent?

If you’re having a tough day, go to an elementary school. Every month, I go to each of our elementary schools, and I host “Lunch with Lowery” and have lunch with the kids. The things they tell me and teach me remind me why I do what I do. Education is a complex science as we connect theory to best practices. As simple as sitting with kids is, we help them know that we care as they each navigate their days. As educators, we can provide opportunities that give them their best shot at achieving their own story of success.

How did it feel to be named South Dakota’s Superintendent of the Year last year?

It was really humbling. There are a lot of really good superintendents that I have learned from in this state, and to be recognized from that pool of people, means a lot to me in my professional journey and personal growth.

How do you support teachers and staff throughout the Tea Area School District?

It’s part of my role as superintendent to advocate for our people and to provide support.

The staff created Standards of Excellence and identified values and ensure those are shared and are clear. Then, we celebrate each other as we live them out as a team.

My area of expertise is hiring the best people and providing them with improvement tools and coaching to learn from each other. We clearly outline our goals with data targets, create plans as teams to move from pilot to implementation and together transform data into pictures that empower change. Teaching at its best seems effortless, but the preparation and collaboration is the hard work behind the scenes. Our next doctors, who may save us someday, are sitting in our classrooms right now. Every one of our “nexts” are sitting here. We have high expectations, but we do that because we know that as a team, we can support our kids in meeting their goals.

What’s your advice to those pursuing a career in education or education administration?

It’s worth the journey. If in your heart, you want to make a difference, education is a good place to be. Education is about people, and if you want to make a lasting impact, caring for someone other than yourself is something that you can be proud of in the long run. It’s exhausting, but purposeful and worthwhile work.

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