For the past 29 years, Dr. Chris Fowler has devoted his career to building a thriving fine arts program for Buford City Schools and to furthering fine arts education throughout the state of Georgia. That dedication and commitment has led to Fowler being honored as a 2021-2022 Outstanding Music Educator by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Fowler is one of seven recipients of this year’s award and has been honored for the organization’s Section 3, which includes the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“There are so many incredible music educators in this state and the southeast, and to be selected for an honor like this is genuinely humbling,” Fowler said. “I am humbled and fulfilled and honored, truly.”
Fowler expressed gratitude for the support he has received from both the Buford City Commission and the Buford City Schools Board of Education.
“The support the City Commission, the Board of Education and this district have given to me personally, to my family, to the arts and to these students and this community, that level of support engenders great loyalty and a drive to do things with excellence,” Fowler said. “I’ve never felt like I’ve come to work a day in my life here. It has been an incredible journey of discovery and excitement watching young people find the same energy and drive and love for music that I found when I was a student.”
Prior to serving as choral music director for Buford High School from 1992 to 2020, Fowler taught at Jonesboro Junior High from 1985 to 1989 and Mount Zion High School from 1989 to 1992. He has served as Buford City Schools’ system-wide fine arts coordinator since 1993. During his tenure, Buford City Schools has added theater and dance programs to its curriculum, and Fowler served as the primary consultant for the construction of the Buford Fine Arts Center and the Performing Arts Building at Buford High School. His expertise has been called upon by other school districts that desire to expand their programs and facilities.
Under Fowler’s direction, his students have compiled an extensive list of honors and achievements, including:
- 13 GHSA State Literary team championships
- 30 GHSA individual state vocal championships
- 20 GHSA Region Literary team championships
- 86 GHSA individual region vocal championships
- 35 superior performance ratings at GMEA evaluation
- Consistent student representation in Georgia All-State Chorus for 35 years
- Three performances at Carnegie Hall with the Georgia Youth Chorale
- Being invited to perform for legislative dinners at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion
- Being invited to perform for the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders
- Being invited through blind audition to perform at GMEA Inservice Conference four times
Fowler and his colleagues hold the record for consecutive team state championships (12) in the GHSA Literary Meet.
An accomplished conductor and pianist, Fowler has also compiled an extensive list of personal honors and awards, including:
- Accompanying the Georgia All-State Chorus 25 times
- Accompanying the Georgia All-State Sight Reading Chorus 10 times
- Being named the recipient of the Danny Lee Sexton Memorial Spirit Award for Buford High School by student vote
- Being invited by other professional music educators to conduct numerous Honor Chorus events
- Serving as an evaluator for Fine Arts for Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- Being selected by GMEA to serve on the planning committee for the Southern U.S. Division Convention
- Being inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society
- Being inducted into Golden Key National Honor Society
- Composing the Alma Mater for Mount Zion High School (1990)
- Composing a choral piece for a National School of Excellence recognition concert (Jonesboro Jr. High, 1989)
While both his students’ achievements and his personal accomplishments convey the depth of Fowler’s dedication to exemplary fine arts education, his passion for infusing youth with a love for music is not as readily apparent on paper — it’s evidenced in the lasting impact Fowler has had on his students.
Shelia Gatlin was an eighth grade student at Jonesboro Junior High School during Fowler’s first year of teaching. Gatlin said she was in chorus rehearsal one day preparing for an upcoming concert practicing “For the Beauty of the Earth” by John Rutter as Fowler was playing the piano and conducting.
“It just dawned on me, the purpose of my life fell in my heart — I want to be like him. I want to help kids feel like I’m feeling right now,” Gatlin recalled. “He was always so passionate in his rehearsals, and even then, it was still very early on as far as my music education, he was meticulous and he just demanded in the best possible leadership way, demanded in a positive way, our absolute best, and he showed us exactly how to get there, how to do that.”
Gatlin is now a choral music educator herself going on 20 years and teaches at Union Grove Middle School in Henry County.
Outside of the realm of choral music, she also praised Fowler’s character.
“I can’t imagine anyone who has met him who hasn’t been blessed by him.”
Joshua Cofer echoed Gatlin’s sentiments that Fowler encourages students to give their best.
“… he always demanded 100% effort,” said Cofer, who was in 10th grade when Fowler began teaching at Buford High School. “(He) demanded we seek perfection. This stuck with me over the years, as it helped concrete the same lessons from my father. While I am still far from perfect, I learned there is value in working to obtain perfection. It’s how we become the best version of ourselves. Chris had a big part in helping me learn that, and I still put it to use daily.”
Dr. Michael Davis, another Buford High School graduate, has similar memories.
“Every day, Dr. Fowler challenged us to be the best at what we were doing in that classroom,” he said. “He helped us learn many lessons throughout the years that helped us become better humans and citizens in our community.”
Davis recently celebrated his 20-year class reunion, and Fowler took him and his fellow BHS graduates on a tour of the new high school.
“Just thinking that our classmates asked Dr. Fowler to give us a tour speaks volumes in itself the type of impact he had on us,” Davis said. “That afternoon was spent with fellow choral students laughing, telling our favorite ‘Fowler stories,’ and quoting all the life lessons that we remember that he instilled in us at such a young age.”
Davis also credits Fowler with inspiring him to pursue his education beyond a bachelor’s degree — Davis had returned from college to see a performance at BHS, where he spoke with Fowler after the show about being unsure what he wanted to do in his life. Fowler told him, “Michael, whatever you choose to do, become an expert in it.”
“That small sentence, that brief encounter, that moment … helped shape my life,” Davis said. “It is the reason I pushed past my bachelor’s degree to get a master’s and Ph.D. It’s the reason I got the highest level of credentialing in my field. It’s the reason I strive to be the best at anything that I do.
“I can say when I look back upon my life, I was blessed to have a teacher like Dr. Fowler,” Davis continued. “Fine arts is such an important part of many students’ lives, but having a teacher who believes in you, challenges you to do your best, and supports you in ways that you don’t realize until 20 years after graduating is something that I would wish every student would get to experience.”
Featured photo courtesy of David McGregor/Lily McGregor Photography.