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.
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."
As a school board candidate, she campaigned for changes such as curriculum specialists and telephones in classrooms.
Lockwood also criticized the school system, calling the education students get "mediocre" and saying that administrators have refused to test some pupils whom she thought needed special-education services.
"This county has the potential [to have] an excellent educational system," she said when the campaign kicked off. "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.
"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 unwilling writers to winning awards. Others say she kept them informed if their children weren't performing well.
"She's one of those teachers that you're 50 years old and you still remember her," said Katherine Ecker, a West Friendship resident whose seventh-grade daughter is in Lockwood's class and whose eighth-grade son was a student aide for her.
Pupils said tissues were passed in class Friday for crying children upset that Lockwood would not be coming back in the fall.
"She has been the best teacher, the best supporter, the best friend I have ever had," said Regina Atwood, 13.
The four evaluations Lockwood provided to the press note a consistent lack of lesson plans and preparation. One describes a class in which she allegedly forgot which lesson students were studying, neglected to collect drills and did not manage the class well.
But Lockwood claims the evaluations are intentionally inaccurate -- she says she always had lesson plans and managed the class well -- because administrators were unhappy that she had filed grievances and complained to the teachers' union in April 1999 that fresh paint in her classroom was harming her and her class.
Board member Stephen C. Bounds praised Hickey and the administrators at Glenwood Middle. "In my opinion, there's no way in the world that those people would let go an excellent teacher like what is portrayed by the kids or the public," he said.
Marius Ambrose, the Maryland State Teachers Association's uni-serve representative assigned to Howard County, said that if Lockwood's claim of retaliation is true, it's unlikely that anyone could verify it.
"Nobody's going to say that -- it's a very, very tough thing to prove," he said. "There's not much she can do. I know Kristine very well and I think she's a very good teacher. But the point is, there's nothing legally we can do to help her get back her job."
One board member, Laura Waters, did suggest to Lockwood last month that her criticism of the school system could be risky because board members "don't deal well with that."
"I was warning her to be careful," she said Friday. "I just was afraid someone would get hurt."
Bounds said yesterday that the board wasn't watching Lockwood and never discussed her. "I can't conceive of what Laura Waters meant," he said.
Some parents are also upset that the board walked out on people speaking in support of her Thursday at the "listening post" portion of the meeting.
"I feel there's an injustice that took place Thursday at the listening post," said Susie Lanuza, whose seventh-grade son is a pupil of Lockwood's. "I'm not saying the board had to change their mind, but they did have to listen."
But Valerie Hillman Narron, president of Glenwood's Parent Teacher Student Association, said she's distressed by the reported behavior of parents who shouted, cursed at the board and argued with security officers. She wasn't at the meeting, but she wants to apologize to the board.
Bounds said he saw the situation Thursday night as a disruptive "performance" rather than a real attempt to lobby the panel. It would have been better for parents to simply call board members, he said, because people aren't supposed to talk about personnel issues at listening post. They also can't get feedback from the board.
Board members walked out only when their security coordinator recommended they do so for safety reasons, Bounds said.
As for Lockwood, she still hopes to teach.
"I realize that many doors shut," she said. "But I think doors opened -- doors I'm not even aware of."