Educational puzzle

Upholding standards: In the murky case of Kristine Lockwood, school officials deserve support.

May 04, 2000

SURELY IT IS tempting to side with Kristine Lockwood in her battle with Howard County school officials: the principal who fired her, the superintendent who ratified that action and the county school board that backs them.

It is possible in this case, however, that those individuals deserve praise for their courage to do what they thought was right, knowing that a protest was likely.

These days, official authority has a more and more difficult time explaining itself. Every complainant seems able to drum up a demonstration or a sit-in of fresh-faced kids and angry parents. Officialdom is almost helpless when policy limits what can be said and when the circumstances stoke the public's cynicism.

A charismatic teacher who communicates sincere zeal for teaching and for children's rights, Ms. Lockwood says she became a teacher to make a difference -- and ran for the county school board recently because she felt students needed more resources and more advocates.

But did she put politics over her classroom responsibilities? She says no. She says she was driven to her candidacy by an unresponsive administration.

Her principal, Dan Michaels, found her classroom performance unsatisfactory and declined to renew her contract. Her performance was declared unsatisfactory at least once before her candidacy.

If performance in class was found deficient -- rightly or wrongly -- wouldn't dealing with that perception be job No. 1? If her problem centered on lack of preparation -- rightly or wrongly -- wouldn't it be wise to spend more time planning? Surely, a campaign for public office siphons off time otherwise available for that duty.

Ms. Lockwood says complaints she made on behalf of students -- and her campaign rhetoric -- made her a target. Her firing is retribution, she says. Yet nothing she said seemed inflammatory. Quite the contrary. She impressed many, including this newspaper, with her presentation and demeanor.

No observer of this imbroglio can know with complete certainty what's going on. But Mr. Michaels is a well-regarded, experienced administrator who enjoys considerable support from his faculty. His devotion to students must be regarded as exemplary.

He knows that Howard County needs all the good, even marginal, instructors it can find as a teacher shortage looms.

He knew, of course, that Ms. Lockwood would have earned tenure had her contract been renewed -- making it infinitely more difficult to dismiss her.

Given that situation, it is easy to see why he acted as he did -- leading one to wonder why Ms. Lockwood did not secure her classroom position before assuming whatever risk there may have been in a race for the school board.

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