This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Lowell Rogers spent Tuesday logging miles at Sawmills Elementary, stopping in and meeting with teachers on their first day back, walking halls that, before the start of classes, have been painted and bulletin-boarded but not yet covered with crayon student art.

“I love walking the hallways,” Rogers said in an interview. “I love being out and about and meeting everyone.”

Rogers will serve this year as principal of Sawmills Elementary, replacing Robin DiBernardi, who retired this spring after seven  years at the school.

Rogers, who was principal at Lower Creek Elementary for five years and at Davenport A+ School for a year, spent the first two weeks of his appointment in individual meetings with SES teachers, staff members and PTA officers.Throughout those meetings, he said, the word he kept hearing was “family.”

That family atmosphere, along with a close-knit, student-centered culture, is Sawmills Elementary’s biggest strength, Rogers said.

“It’s the whole community – teachers, parents and other community members,” he said. “And all those parts focus on the student.”

When asked what challenges the school will face in 2013-14, Rogers answered with one word – the same new principals across the county have mentioned first, when asked the same question: “Budget.”

Cuts to public education by the state legislature will require “different approaches” from Sawmills’ staff, Rogers said. But with creativity and teamwork, he believes teachers can make instruction work with fewer resources.

Rogers added that it’s most important to keep teachers in their jobs and in the classroom.

“We’ve been lucky with the school board, with their focus on keeping people in the classroom and working with students,” he said. “You can’t replace that, no matter how much technology you have. I love my iPad, but you can’t replace that.”

“That’s part of what makes us good at what we do, that creativity,” he said.

Rogers has been impressed with teachers at Sawmills, he said, because the only concerns he has heard about the budget are concerns for students. He said that fits with his own philosophy as an educator, which calls for basing all decisions on student needs and searching for the resources individual students need.

“I care about my students,” he said. “All 296 here at Sawmills, I care about each and every one of them. I’m looking forward to meeting them.”

Rogers holds a bachelor’s in elementary education and a master’s in school administration, both from Appalachian State University. He served four years in the United States Air Force and worked as an educator in Greensboro, Asheboro and Rockingham before coming to Caldwell County.

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