By Joseph Pratt
It can be hard for a school district to balance its many needs and even superintendents need help, which is why Education Service Centers (ESC) exist all over the state to provide opportunities for more affordable resources and guidance. The South Central ESC (SCOESC) is currently witnessing a change in leadership as Superintendent Lowell Howard retires after a lifelong career in education, and Green Local Schools Superintendent Sandy Mers steps in.
The majority of Howard’s career was spent within the halls of the New Boston School District, where he started as a teacher and worked all of the ranks, leading to superintendent. He said he worked in the field until 2003, when he retired from education — but retirement came too early for him and he realized he wasn’t ready to give up working. When the SCOESC needed a new superintendent to guide it in a more business direction, he decided to take on the task and make a much larger impact on the area’s quality of education. He has been working as the superintendent of SCOESC for eight years.
“What attracted me to the ESC is that the growth of total change,” Howard said, referencing to the changing layout from a county board to an ESC.
Howard played an instrumental role in the SCOESC changing its direction over recent years. This is a major accomplishment, seeing that ESCs are closing all over the state, unable to adapt to perpetually lowering state budgets.
“When I came into office, the state wanted me to transform the county office concept into the new concept,” Howard stated. “The state cuts us with money every year. When I first came in, they told me their intention was to eventually cut our funding to zero percent, because they want us operating like a business or we can close our doors.
Howard says that his biggest accomplishment in his latest career was being able to guide the SCOESC to run more like the business is now becoming.
“Since I’ve been here, our funding has been cut by half,” Howard stated. “It continues to lower in effort to have us completely on the business side.”
Another major accomplishment of Howard’s career is growing the staff size from 68 to over 200, despite the cut in funding. Howard says that there is also additional room to grow when the new superintendent takes over.
“Our employees are scattered throughout a five-county area,” Howard said. “We now have contracts with over 40 school districts. Everyone still sort of views us as a Scioto County entity, but we are over six counties and have done training from Springfield to Athens.”
Howard explained that he views ESCs as a major importance to local schools.
“We are able to provide quality staff at a lower cost to schools through contract,” Howard said. “By providing a school psychologist to a school district through our office, we can save a school district 20 to 30 thousand dollars. That is just one position.
He said the ESC also does a lot of cross-networking throughout schools to afford staff. He explained that they can pull students from each district or provide a staff member to be shared among various districts, to cut costs on a district.
When it comes to education and students impacted by growth under Howard, he says that the largest highlights have been two additions. The addition of 20 preschool classrooms added across the county, which target much needed early education; as well as the addition of a new classroom catalyst for 100 students who were at risk of dropping out of school.
“I feel confident in my replacement being Miss Sandy Mers, and I have been working with Miss Mers on understanding the mission of an ESC,” Howard said. “I also feel good about the place I am leaving the ESC. There is much room for growth and I am optimistic about continuity.”
All of the area superintendents worked closely with Howard over the years, but none closer than New Boston Superintendent Melinda Burnside. Burnside described the opportunity to work with Lowell a blessing and stated their working relationship goes all the way back to when he hired her as a teacher at New Boston. Burnside worked under Howard as a teacher, a coach and athletic director, a principal, and has recently worked with him as an area superintendent.
“I’ve gone through every phase of my teaching career at New Boston through Lowell Howard,” Burnside claimed. “I’ve watched him work over the years. No matter what goals he tries to accomplish, whether those be the goals of a district or an educational service center, he gives it his all. There is no one else out there who has a better knowledge of what he does, but him. He is just one incredible person.”
Burnside said that living by the SCOESC building, she has witnessed him even raking the leaves outside of the building.
“He has been a great mentor to me and I am blessed to have been working with him over these many years,” Burnside said. “I’ve always called on him to ask him his opinion on many educational matters. He is going to be one person who will be greatly missed.”
Howard said that his retirement will be greatly spent traveling with his wife, since he has never had many opportunities to travel due to his professional life. Additionally, Howard said he plans to vacate some of his positions on committees and boards while he plans travel arrangements. He did say that after he has traveled a bit, he sees himself returning home and will serve the education field in one way or another, through volunteer work or on a board of some sort.
“He is the best boss I’ve ever had,” SCOESC Gifted Services Coordinator Sharee Price said. “He is very supportive of his employees and of the programs benefiting the area schools. Most importantly, he is an advocate for children. I suspect we will see more of him here and there, even though he says he is done.”
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.