Bittersweet Goodbye to Beverly Low, Retiring Head of MERSD Guidance


When Beverly “Bev” Low arrived at the Manchester Essex Regional High School’s Guidance Dept. ten years ago, college guidance departments were transitioning from a clubby affair to a complex journey that could easily overwhelm and intimidate students and their parents.

Bev Low was up for the challenge, and she had the experience to do it. 

Today, as she retires this month, Bev can say she has successfully shaped the district’s guidance department into one that’s good and ready for the next 20 years.

“Honestly, it’s bittersweet,” said Pam Beaudoin, Manchester Essex Regional School District Superintendent.  “Bev has done a tremendous job rebuilding the department.  It’s amazing.  I know she’s ready to take on the next thing but it’s a blow for us.  She’s been an asset to our district and her community.”

It’s true: guidance at MERSD has radically changed.  But that’s been true across the US, largely due to technological advancements, and societal changes that required guidance counselors to address a spectrum of student needs that were unthinkable just a decade ago. 

“The first year was not easy,” Low laughs.  Having spent more than 25 years in student affairs at college administration, there was a learning curve.  High School days were fast paced, and whipped by.  She had to adapt to the new pace.  She also had to figure out how things worked, and how decisions were made. 

“I did love it, but I felt like I’d gone from the balcony into the crowd!”

But MERSD needed someone who wasn’t afraid of change.  Soon, Low got into the groove with her students, fellow guidance counselors in her department, and the rest of the MERSD staff. 

“At that time, the focus was on positioning our students to the college admissions community,” said Low.  And while that’s still the case, how that’s done has radically changed.  Over time, tech tools entered the guidance process, offering expanded student access.  That’s a good thing, said Low.  Platforms like Naviance are now essential because they put college and career readiness into the hands of more students and match them to colleges and programs that are right for them.

Unfortunately, college admissions is often a bragging game, especially in a district like MERSD, where families are wealthy and highly educated. 

Low said her goal was to turn that upside down, to expand guidance support to students who may not have college planning on their radar and need help navigating the complexities of college applications, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities.  “Bev came to the district when our Guidance Dept. was in disarray,” said Annie Cameron who serves with Low on the board of the Manchester Essex Education Fund.  “She, with (former ME Regional High School Principal) Patricia Puglisi, put it back together, building a strong team, establishing a department structure and expectations that were aligned with community values. She knows those kids, her staff is focused and respects her, and those kids know she has their back.”

Originally from Cape Ann, the Low family is an old one that goes back tens of generations in the town of Essex, and Bev herself grew up in the Riverdale neighborhood of Gloucester, graduating from Gloucester High School in 1980.  This is a key thing to know about Bev, because she’ll tell you she truly and deeply loves family and the ocean. 

Oh yes, and golf, which she’s enjoyed for years, especially with her father.

Low’s first taste of what became a career in student life came when she filled in for a teacher at Gloucester High who was out on maternity leave.  That led to a position at Salem State College (now University) in student activities and programming.  Maybe it was the position.  Maybe it was that there she connected with a critical boss and mentor.  Maybe it was just the right time for inspiration.  But that job set Bev on a path that ended now, at MERSD.

Her mentor said she “had a knack” for the work, which included everything from organizing concerts to lecture series.

After Salem State, Low knew her focus would be in student affairs.  She pursued a master’s degree at the University of South Carolina to focus on administration, specifically on supporting students at the very start of college.  The University of Maine Orono came knocking, and she joined the school’s student affairs
department to support the “first year experience,” shaping everything from orientation, support services, and programming. 

The idea of supporting that transition to college was critical, she said, because it set the tone for a student’s whole college experience.  Low also loved that her job worked with admissions to academics to student life to enrollment management. 

That trajectory continued, and expanded.  After seven years in Maine, it was off to upstate New York and the world of prestige colleges.  First, at Hamilton College, where for eight years Bev got the opportunity oversee great change as Student Activities Director during a heady period as the private college was expanding after going co-ed and was figuring out what that meant for its future.  Fraternity clubs were shutting down, and student life was changing.  Hamilton had a culture that rewarded change, and embraced new ideas.  It was great, said Low. 

“It gave me opportunities I never would have gotten anywhere else,” she said.  But that meant she got noticed.  And soon, Colgate College came knocking, and Low accepted a promotion that, interestingly, brought her back to her experience in Maine.  She was named Dean of First Year Students at Colgate, a position she held for 13 years until she determined it was time to head back to what she loved: Cape Ann, and the beach.

Yes, of course, Low is proud of the achievements of the MERSD Guidance Dept. and being there for its period of rapid change.  There are great colleges that have snapped up many of MERSD’s high achieving graduates.  There are
students who view those in guidance as mentors.  But Low is proudest of students who may struggle with academics at MERSD and attended summer school but who, in the end, successfully went onto college where they are now a campus leader.

“Those are the moments that really matter,” said Low.

But for now, this is Bev Low’s time to shine.  And she’s keeping her eyes on the next key steps.  First, it’s continuing the
goodbyes and the yearbook signings.  Then it’s clearing her corner office on the second floor.  Then, it’s her birthday on July 9.  Then, there’s September, and that makes Low smile.

“In 37 years, I’ve never taken a September off,” laughs Low.  “I’ll be busy getting beach time, golf time, and just chill.  But then, I’ll probably get bored!”