A teacher who stands for her principles

`Idealistic': Friends and family of Howard County teacher Kristine Lockwood, whose contract is not being renewed, say she won't back down when she feels she's right.

May 02, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

At 4 years old, Kristine Lockwood's favorite activity was pretending -- with her silently attentive dolls lined up around her -- that she was teaching lessons, giving assignments and organizing the group just so.

At 5, she spent mornings at the St. Peter's Episcopal Church nursery school in Ellicott City, leading real live 4-year-olds in a "reading group."

It came as no surprise to Lockwood's mother that this child eventually became an educator -- even though her attraction to school turned to frustration and boredom by eighth grade.

It was also no surprise to Lockwood's friends that she would speak up about problems once she became a teacher. Or that she would run for school board. Or -- as she says -- that she would risk her job in the process.

The Howard County school board voted last week not to renew her contract for next academic year, a recommendation of Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and her principal, Dan Michaels of Glenwood Middle School.

Lockwood, a seventh-grade language arts instructor for almost two years, alleges retaliation for her comments during her unsuccessful campaign and for grievances filed on the job. School officials -- who by law cannot give the reason because it is a personnel issue -- say that is not the case.

The situation touched off a storm of protests, from parents and pupils who attended the school board meeting Thursday, and from seventh-graders who staged a sit-in Friday after recess. Police were called both times.

Robert Shaffer, who worked with Lockwood for a couple years when she was a mortgage underwriter at Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley, read the news and decided he wasn't shocked.

She's not the type to go looking for problems, he said, "but with something she felt strongly about, she wouldn't back down, either."

"If she feels that there's something that needs to be corrected, she doesn't mind taking a stand for it," said Shaffer, now president of Excel Mortgage Group Inc. in Federal Hill. "Even if it's harmful for her immediate well-being."

He doesn't recall Lockwood getting into clashes at Eastern. But she challenged the system if she thought borrowers weren't getting a "fair shake," he said. It impressed him that she didn't react as most people did, with: "That's just the way it is."

"In this business, especially, there's always a lot of things that people just accept as the norm -- and maybe it shouldn't be that way," Shaffer said.

Lockwood, 30, of Columbia has always been "idealistic," said Linda Hamm, her mother.

"She wants to defend the underdog," said Hamm, of St. Pete Beach, Fla.

A vegetarian because she doesn't like the idea of hurting animals, Lockwood has made a pastime of collecting strays, once bringing home an abandoned litter of kittens and helping feed it with a baby bottle. Once a week she volunteers as a tutor.

She worked nearly five years in the mortgage business before deciding that wasn't where she could make a difference in society. Before switching to education, she coordinated training programs in the mortgage industry.

"I could see that students would really be drawn to her," said Barbara Bernard, Lockwood's supervisor at Mortgage Bankers Association of America about five years ago.

"She was extremely high energy, very creative, very personable," said Bernard, who now works at Freddie Mac. "We always got good reviews on her programs, mainly because she was a very friendly, high-energy person."

As a teacher, Lockwood was especially interested in helping the struggling pupils. She can recall what it was like being one herself: first at Wilde Lake Middle, wondering about the value of this lesson or that subject; then at Wilde Lake High and Centennial High schools, cutting classes.

"My opinion was that the system was set up very well for the person who is ready to go with the system," Hamm said. "Kristie was different." The defining academic moment for Lockwood came when, after leaving Centennial and being schooled at home, she succeeded at Howard Community College.

She went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore with a history degree in 1991, following it with a master's degree in education from Loyola College last year.

"It made me feel that I could do it, and there was something wrong with the school system," Lockwood said.

"Granted, it would have helped if I'd gone to class," she added with a laugh. "But [the problems] happened before that. There was something about the Howard County public schools that wasn't motivating to me as a student."

She says she has a method for motivating seventh-graders: begin the class with a review, to help anyone who missed the previous lesson. Start the next subject off with an attention-grabber -- such as demonstrating "suspense" with the aid of a balloon and a sharp object. End by asking pupils what they learned.

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