'Father' Of Middle Schools Proud Of His Handiwork

December 02, 1990|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER - Evan F. "Joe" Bowers could be called the father of the middle school program in Carroll County.

A co-founder of the Maryland Middle School Association, he was named the first supervisor of middle schools for Carroll County in 1968.

For the next six years, Bowers would be the guiding force behind the still-new middle school concept, which began in Florida in the early 1960s.

"People heard about it back then, but it was very experimental," Bowers said. "People set up their own programs and tried to set up something workable."

Once middle schools were installed in Maryland, the state and Carroll, in particular, became models for other East Coast states.

"We set up a schedule with middle school principals and vice principals to do traveling seminars," Bowers said. "We visited schools from Georgia to Maine and as far west as Ohio, and that was the beginning of the movement."

As with any new program, there were questions, especially as to what grades to make the middle schools.

"Some thought it should be grades five to nine, but we thought fifth grade was too young and ninth grade too old, so we settled on sixth, seventh and eighth," he said.

Retired since 1974, Bowers, soon to be 82, still keeps up with school happenings and trends, much the way he did during his 43 years as an administrator with Carroll County public schools.

He calls Carroll's middle schools "a very good program addition" to the system and the team-teaching method "the right thing to do" at that level.

If anyone can "grade" today's schools, it's Bowers, who has pretty much seen it all over the years in terms of changes in education.

Born in Linwood, he attended Park Hall School, a one-room school for grades one through five near New Windsor. He began high school at what is now the New Windsor Service Center. In the 1920s, it was New Windsor High School.

He graduated from Westminster High School in 1927, when that facility was on Center Street, in what is now the Westminster Inn.

Bowers then attended Towson Normal School, a two-year school that is now Towson State University, graduating in 1931. He returned to Carroll County and began teaching math at Westminster Elementary when it was still a portable surrounding the Center Street high school.

His teaching career would last only four years. In 1935, Bowers was made principal of Westminster Elementary, a position he kept until 1950.

"I was very fortunate in having an excellent staff of teachers," he said. "And if you have good teachers, you have a good program. We had a very good curriculum."

The innovations that administrators and teachers are encouraged to try in today's schools seemingly have existed for many years, as Bowers can attest.

While at Westminster Elementary, Bowers also was working part-time at Western Maryland College on his bachelor's degree, which he earned in 1941.

As he studied, also part-time, for his master's at the University of Maryland, he began a research project at the school that was the basis for his thesis.

"We tested the youngsters and then grouped them by test results according to their reading levels," he explained. "We didn't grade them at all, and we did this for three years. The thesis would show growth on the part of the youngsters.

"It helped the teachers as much as the youngsters, because for one period of each day, everybody was a reading teacher. I know a lot of those students today. The reading program worked."

Bowers' abilities kept him advancing up the ladder. In 1950, he was promoted to principal of Sykesville High, and in 1960, to supervisor of elementary and high schools, a post he occupied until 1968.

While at Sykesville, he saw the system change from 11 grades to 12, and seniors began wearing caps and gowns to graduation. He also was there when the school burned in 1957.

But of all the things that happened in that decade, what stands out most in Bowers' mind is the people -- the teen-agers he helped mold and his teachers who also went on to higher heights.

"I'm proud that many of the students who were there became outstanding people in the community," he said. "We also had a lot of people in the Sykesville system who have done well."

Bowers remembers well R. Edward Shilling and his older brother, Joseph I. Shilling, now the county and state school superintendents, respectively.

And Ed Shilling knows where Bowers stands in the Carroll school system's history and development.

"Joe had a great deal to do with where we are today in the middle schools," Shilling said. "As supervisor he did a great deal of traveling in nearby states to recruit teachers, and he brought a lot of good people into the system. He was an outstanding mentor to a lot of people."

Today, Bowers and his wife, Molly, a teacher with the county for 30 years, enjoy their retirement.

Among other pursuits, Bowers takes pictures, plays golf at Wakefield Valley Golf Club and frequently goes into Westminster for coffee with a group of fellow retirees.

Together, the Bowers enjoy reading, walking, entertaining friends at their Parr's Ridge condominium, traveling, playing bridge and being active in Westminster United Methodist Church.

Twice a year, the Bowers visit their daughter, Sharon, 48, her husband and their 8-year-old son in Arizona. And, from December through March, they leave Maryland's winters for the warm sunshine of Florida, where they own a condominium in Tampa.

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