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Charlotte Observer: Northwest School Of The Arts Principal Unexpectedly Dies

Students, staff and parents of Northwest School of the Arts arrived at the Charlotte school in shock Tuesday morning, dealing with the death of their principal. Huntersville police say they found the body of Barry Bowe, principal at the performing arts magnet school for nearly four years, at his Huntersville home Monday afternoon. He was 54. In recent days, students and parents had been rallying support for Bowe, who they said had been given a retire-or-be-fired ultimatum by the school system. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman said no disciplinary action had been taken with Bowe, but said he had taken a personal leave day on Friday. Someone from the district went to check on Bowe Monday because he had not responded to messages, said spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry. The cause of Bowe's death is unclear. A report from police in Huntersville referred to the case as an "unattended death." The Medical Examiner's office said Tuesday morning that Bowe's death was still under investigation by Huntersville police. But friends said they didn't know of any health problems that Bowe was dealing with. "I can't tell you how I feel," one teacher, tears in her eyes, said as she walked to the school from the faculty parking lot Tuesday morning. "This is going to be a very difficult day around here." Bowe came to Northwest in 2008 after serving as a principal and administrator in the Charleston, W.Va., area. He was considered a strong supporter of the arts, and the students' test scores had risen in recent years. CMS officials said grief counselors will be at the school today -- the first day of the second semester. Henry said the counselors will remain at the school the rest of the week. The school system issued a news release Tuesday morning, saying, "We are very saddened to share the news that Barry Bowe, the principal at Northwest School of the Arts, has died unexpectedly. Mr. Bowe had been at Northwest School of the Arts since 2008 and was cherished by the students, staff and families at the school. "All of us at CMS are mourning the loss of a valued educator, colleague and friend. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends." "So sad," one woman wrote on the Friends of Northwest School of the Arts Facebook page. "My daughter is in tears." The news came as parents of Northwest students were trying to rally support for Bowe via Facebook and other means Sunday and Monday after word began to spread that Bowe was being removed as principal. Parents said they believed the action stemmed from a Dec. 17 incident at Northwest School of the Arts, when someone allegedly pulled and pointed a gun at a teen outside the school after a dance. Some students said afterwards that there were no security personnel at the dance. It began with an argument during the dance, and the dispute moved out into the parking lot. That is when the alleged gun-pointing incident took place. Some students told WSOC-TV that three school staff members were the only supervision at the dance. CMS normally requires security personnel at such events. The school system later said it was investigating the incident. WSOC is reporting that Bowe was told to resign or be fired, as a result of the investigation. "It is unacceptable for CMS to repeatedly remove talented, highly committed professionals whose effectiveness is clear," Ginny Brien, president of Friends of Northwest School of the Arts, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. "(Bowe) has been instrumental in elevating academic achievement, building community partnerships, and creating an environment where 100% of students report feeling safe, according to multiple CMS safety audits." In October, Bowe was one of three CMS educators to receive awards from the N.C. Art Education Association. Bowe was honored with the "Friends of the Arts Award for School Administration." "As principal, Dr. Bowe has asked, pushed and prodded many artists, arts organizations and Charlotteans to make 'note' of NWSA," states an article on the CMS website about the award. "He never lets an opportunity pass to bring accolades to his students." Later, the story states: "He is present at each event, cheering and clapping to show students just how proud he is of them." Northwest is a magnet school for grades 6 through 12 on Beatties Ford Road.