A life lesson for children in teacher's dismissal

This Just In...

May 01, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

A Monday morning memo to the seventh-grade pupils of Glenwood Middle School, western Howard County.

Today's subject: Grown-ups, democracy, good teachers, bad decisions, life lessons, etc.

I know what you're thinking today. Those of you who have put your minds to work contemplating the firing of a teacher named Kristine Lockwood are probably feeling pretty bad. Good teacher, popular teacher -- and she doesn't get a new contract? She won't be back next year?

Doesn't seem fair or democratic, does it?

And don't they keep telling us there's a shortage of teachers in this state?

The fact that Mrs. Lockwood happened to be outspoken, even had the nerve to run for a seat on the county school board this year, complicates the whole thing, doesn't it? Makes it look even worse. Makes it look as though Mrs. Lockwood got fired for biting the hand that feeds her.

It's hard to believe the superintendent, Dr. Michael Hickey, isn't it? He keeps saying that Mrs. Lockwood's firing had "absolutely nothing" to do with her running for the board and being outspoken. Dr. Hickey couldn't give the "real reason" for Mrs. Lockwood's firing. It's a personnel matter, see, and he's not allowed to, and you have to respect that. Unfortunately, without a full explanation, the tendency is to believe that the school board's firing of Mrs. Lockwood is retaliation for things she said this winter.

What exactly did she say this winter?

I looked over the record, as it appeared in bits and pieces in The Sun and, I'll be honest, I don't see where Mrs. Lockwood said anything so outrageous.

There were 18 people running in the March primary for two seats on the county school board. Usually, that means a couple of things, kids: Parents are unhappy with the present board and they think they can improve things, or some of them have individual axes to grind and want to shake things up. When she was asked to speculate on why a record number of candidates had filed, Mrs. Lockwood said: "A lot of people are questioning the way we do things. Certainly, some of the things we do are excellent -- and some of the things we do need improvement."

"We" seems to indicate that Mrs. Lockwood, though a Howard teacher only two years, certainly considered herself part of the system. Her comment was even-handed, wouldn't you say?

In the same interview, Mrs. Lockwood said she "wants to improve pupils' education by directing more resources to educators."

Not a surprising comment coming from a teacher.

Candidates were asked about "equity in education," giving more resources to students with greater needs. "Equity means fairness," Mrs. Lockwood said. "We educate students fairly when we educate them according to their needs."

Hard to disagree with that, wouldn't you say?

On the policy of open enrollment, allowing parents to put their kids in schools outside their district, Mrs. Lockwood said: "Parents have the right to seek the best education for their children. If we want students to stay in their neighborhood schools, let's make them attractive to parents and students."

Not exactly edgy rap lyrics, are they?

Mrs. Lockwood might have raised some eyebrows with her position on school vouchers. Among candidates, she was one of only two supporters of the concept, saying poor students should have the ability to go elsewhere for their education if they're not being helped in public school.

Still, by today's standards, that's only a mildly contentious position, though it probably puts her in the minority among public school educators.

When The Sun asked candidates what changes they would make in the way the school board operates, Mrs. Lockwood said: "To make good, applicable decisions, the board needs to know what is happening in the schools from the classroom viewpoint, not just from a boardroom perspective. ... They need to develop open, honest communication with parents, students, teachers and the community and not use principals as buffers."

She didn't win any friends on the board with that, did she?

Nor did she gain much favor later when she used the word "mediocre" to describe the education students have been getting in Howard County.

Listen, kids, in case you haven't noticed, Howard County is a pretty good place to get a public education -- one of the best in the state. And that's because your parents, who pay the taxes out there, demand it, and because the county is affluent and can afford it.

So Mrs. Lockwood saying "mediocre" might have hurt a lot of feelings among people who've been educating kids for years.

But maybe your Mrs. Lockwood has high standards. Maybe she thinks even a good school system needs to be challenged. Most of the teachers I know -- the ones who are not jaded, anyway -- have that instinct at heart. They work hard and want you to do the same. They want you to go places. They want you to get to the high ground. And maybe that attitude of setting the bar higher and higher carries over to how they feel about the school systems in which they work.

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