Failure all around in Howard County

Comment

May 07, 2000|By C. Fraser Smith

Partisans OF Kristine Lockwood, having failed to win back her job, may now mount a write-in school board candidacy to continue their protest.

That news may provoke a mixed reaction.

The ballot enterprise seems doomed, but it could have some positive results: more parental involvement in public education and politics; a more spirited school board campaign; a sharpened sensitivity to frictions between teachers and administrators.

It could also waste a lot time, raise hopes falsely, and distract all concerned from more positive pursuits.

For reasons that vary according to the witness, Ms. Lockwood lost her job at Glenwood Middle School. The principal there, Dan Michaels, recommended against renewing her contract.

Unsatisfactory performance as a teacher, he said.

Retaliation for outspokenness, she said.

He said, she said.

Some Glenwood parents and children decided that whatever she said, however she taught, they liked her. The school board and the superintendent sided with Mr. Michaels, whom they regard as a "class act."

The American way

Many have had an immediate reaction against the authorities. It's almost the American way. But, with hundreds of teachers moving in and out of the system every year, the board must depend on its lieutenants, Dan Michaels and others. It cannot investigate every situation -- even when 100 or so parents and other hangers-on occupy the school board meeting room, raise a ruckus and shout j'acuse when the board walks out in a huff.

Nothing else is likely to restore Ms. Lockwood's job -- not even a successful write-in candidacy.

Surely everyone, with the exception of the children brought into the fray, knows this very well.

So what is going on here? Depends on which of the players you're talking to.

Ms. Lockwood says she wouldn't be the candidate if such a campaign is undertaken, but she does want to keep her cause alive. She has a few job prospects, she says, but they are on hold.

"Right now, I want to work on this," she says. "I want to help teachers be advocates. Teachers are intimidated. I want to see if we can make some inroads."

The parents and some of the unsuccessful candidates for the school board may hope to use the Lockwood controversy as a platform or springboard -- if not to mount a write-in effort, then to keep pounding the school board.

Airing grievances

The point may not be winning a seat. The point may simply be to keep various grievances -- advocacy for students, support for teachers and anger with the school board -- before the public.

The board, itself, may need to lighten up a bit, find a better way to deal with unhappy parents and their children -- stop asserting so much of its authority. Its decision to walk out of the protest meeting may have been correct. Little was going to be accomplished in that atmosphere.

But this board, led by competent and generous community leaders, must do something to show it recognizes unhappiness with its manner. "Arrogant" gets thrown around enough to make these smart people see they need a bit of image reconstruction.

The board has the power -- so it really has nothing to lose. A fair number of voters did choose "reform" candidates in the primary election. The impact was dissipated because the protest vote was spread among so many contenders.

In private, moreover, the board ought to ask Dan Michaels for a detailed explanation of what happened with Kristine Lockwood. Perhaps such a discussion has been held. The understandable yet infuriating old dodge of "personnel matter" prevents a public discussion understanding.

It's a pity -- but, again, it may be very wise policy in most cases to keep silent. Lawsuits, you know.

The policy protects teachers who don't click in Howard but might do very well in Baltimore County -- if they don't arrive with something like "troublemaker" stamped on their foreheads.

Challenging authority

Ms. Lockwood, it seems, made herself unwelcome by challenging her boss too often. "The real issue was that I wanted to be an advocate and that meant pointing things out," she said. She says some of her colleagues are intimidated into silence.

"I felt I had the least to lose," she said. She did have her job to lose, she acknowledges, but she thought that was better than remaining silent. She wouldn't even relent until she had made amends with the authorities and secured her contract.

Her race for the school board is seen by some as a way to insulate herself from the dismissal she was worried about: If she were a candidate, this theory holds, the board would not fire her lest it be accused of retaliation for her candidacy.

Too Machiavellian, no doubt. We are talking true believing here. Calculation may not be out of the question, but Kristine Lockwood seems sincerely motivated.

The real loss -- for a system that needs good teachers and a young woman with talent -- is that no one could find a way to keep her at the blackboard.

"I want to be a good role model for children," she said. Let's hope she finds a way to do that.

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials for The Sun from Howard County.

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