Teacher says her aim was reform

Dismissed instructor feels outspokenness riled school board

April 30, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Kristine Lockwood struggled as a pupil in Howard County schools but thrived in college, and dreamed of keeping other students from falling through the cracks as she had.

She knew that might mean speaking up if methods and procedures seemed inappropriate. But Lockwood said she never imagined that she'd run for school board, lose her job and become a cause celebre for parents and pupils willing to disrupt meetings and classes -- and even get arrested -- to get her reinstated.

Neither did administrators, who called in police Thursday night to regain order at a board meeting and again Friday after Glenwood Middle School seventh-graders staged a "sit-down" protest after recess to support the language-arts teacher. A parent was arrested and charged with trespassing during the "sit-down."

Board members, on the recommendation of Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, voted Thursday not to renew Lockwood's contract for next school year. Officials decided after the demonstrations Friday to reassign her from Glenwood to a site yet to be determined.

School officials say they are legally unable to discuss the reason her contract was not renewed because it's a personnel matter. But Hickey has said that Lockwood is "absolutely" not being let go for being outspoken.

Nevertheless, Lockwood's criticism of the school system had prompted one board member to warn the teacher that the board was watching her.

The person at the center of the storm is a 30-year-old Columbia resident who used to be a mortgage underwriter. Lockwood said she enjoyed the field, but it wasn't where she belonged.

"I wanted to make a difference in society," she said. "I was in business, and I felt like I wasn't making a difference."

A self-described seeker of challenges, she saw in teaching the chance to help students, especially those struggling in class. She can readily identify with them.

Born and raised in Howard County, she said she attended Wilde Lake High School her freshman year, Centennial High School as a sophomore and then -- bored, frustrated and feeling as if she wasn't learning -- opted to be schooled at home.

She said she did well in college at the University of Baltimore, where she graduated with a degree in history in 1991. She earned a master's degree in education from Loyola College last year.

If someone had asked Lockwood the high-schooler about the root of her problems in school, she would have blamed the teachers, she said. But once she became one, she believed the problem was insufficient resources for instructors -- especially new ones.

As a school board candidate, she campaigned for changes such as curriculum specialists who would offer new teachers the option of using model lesson plans. She said teachers need telephones in classrooms to more easily reach parents.

Lockwood also criticized the school system, calling the education students get "mediocre" and saying that administrators have refused to test some pupils who she thought needed special-education services.

"This county has the potential [to have] an excellent educational system," she said when the campaign started in January. "We just need to restructure how we do our jobs."

Lockwood finished seventh out of 18 candidates in the primary last month. Only the top four candidates advanced to compete in the November election.

She said she believed there could be risks for criticizing the school system and for filing grievances, but she thought speaking out about problems was important. She said those who don't like her would describe her as a "complainer -- whereas I would describe myself as a reformer."

"I wanted to go back into the school system and help students succeed," she said. "I believe that every student has potential, and I wanted to help them find that potential."

Dozens of pupils and parents say Lockwood had been doing just that. Some say their children went from being Lockwood19B

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