by Kim Byrnes | Photography by Walter P. Calahan
Steven Lockard, who was named to replace Stephen Guthrie as superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools, hit the ground running in his new position on July 1.
Lockard grew up in Carroll County, where his father, Brian Lockard, served as superintendent of schools from 1994 to 1998. A Westminster High School graduate, Lockard earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education/early childhood education from Frostburg State University in 1992, a Master of Science in school administration from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in 1998, and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and policy studies from the University of Maryland in 2013.
He worked in Frederick County as a teacher, administrator, assistant principal and as deputy superintendent from 2012 to 2014. Lockard then served as deputy superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va., in 2014. From November 2016 to July 2017, he served as interim superintendent.
Lockard has received numerous accolades, including the Frederick County Sallie Mae First Year Teacher Award, the National Sallie Mae First Year Teacher Award, and the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.
He recently took time out from his schedule to share his thoughts with Carroll Magazine.
How difficult was the decision to return to Carroll County for this position? There really wasn’t a lot of thinking about wanting to do this job. I’ve thought for several years that if the opportunity presented itself and I was in a position to apply, I would pursue it. I have roots here, I went through the school system here, my father worked for the school system for 33 years, I have family and friends here; it’s a natural return for me. I have three children — Braden, who just graduated from high school; James, a rising 11th-grader; and Emily, a rising sixth-grader. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about making a big move — my wife Patty and I, married for 22 years, live in Mount Airy.
You’re coming from the Fairfax County school system in Virginia, which has more than 188,000 students. Before that you were in Frederick County, a system with about 41,000 students. And now you’re in Carroll County, with 25,000 students. How will having worked in larger school systems help you in this position? There are pros and cons to working different-sized school systems. The experiences that I’ve gained working in different places has helped to me grow and learn. I’ve always known that I’m more cut out for a smaller system, and let me add that 25,000 isn’t small by any means. I really feel like I’m a relationship person. I feel like I fit very well with a 25,000-student district, so I can establish relationships and get to know people more inclusively than one could in a system that has 25,000 employees. I look forward to this size because I think it suits my style a little better.
You’ve worked your way up through the education system — you were a classroom teacher, an administrator and interim superintendent. In what positions have you felt most fulfilled? I’ve always considered myself a teacher at heart. The experience that has really helped shape me is in the classroom as a teacher. Right next to that, though, was being an elementary school principal — that was incredibly rewarding. I think those experiences have grounded me. I use those experiences in the classroom and as a principal all the time to stay grounded in what we do and why we do it.
Can you think of an “aha” moment — a light bulb moment in education that made you better at what you do or how you do it? When I was a teacher, I had the opportunity to be a part of a National Science Foundation training for teachers in elementary science. It was a two-year training that included a cohort of teachers from different schools. I remember how much better I became at teaching because of the training that was provided to me. I understand the importance of professional development, of constantly learning and constantly growing. That experience catapulted me over the top to be a better teacher — to strive to get kids engaged, to get them to think critically, to be better problems solvers. Content is important, but what you do with it and how you figure things out is more important. Understanding that was a groundbreaking moment for me as a young teacher. People can show you all content in the world, but knowing how to teach it and teach kids is a true art.
What are a few issues you will start out with as superintendent? In doing my homework for the job I drafted an entry plan that I shared with Board of Education members; it’s a work in progress and will evolve as I get more input and feedback. First, I want to get up to speed on critical, ongoing issues, like there is work underway with redistricting, and the school closure committee, and I want to know where we’re at with safety and security protocols. Aside from that, I talked about relationships — right out of the gate I want to be out there meeting folks, building relationship, reconnecting, getting into schools, and talking to administrators and staff. Also, I have an instructional focus: I want to spend some time reviewing and hearing from folks about instructional programming, I believe Carroll County is poised for great things — there’s a lot of successes here to build on. I want to help make that happen.
You have personal and emotional ties to this system and this position. What does it mean to you to be following in your father’s footsteps? What does it mean to be returning to the system that provided your very first experiences in education? It means a lot to me and is very special because of my dad’s commitment to the school system. He was a great father, but also a great mentor to me. He taught me a lot about, certainly, all things school system, but also about being the best person you can be. I’ve tried to pattern my life after that advice. I make mistakes, and sometimes you learn the hard way, but I stay true to the ideals that he gave to me, and that is about how you treat people, how you maintain your integrity. He was a great model of that.
I grew up here and I have ties in the community here, I went to Robert Moton Elementary, East Middle, and graduated from Westminster High School. I had a great experience here — I was involved in music and athletics, and I was taught by people who were invested in my education. I know there’s a great workforce here, and I’m just honored to be a part of it again. I really got the foundation that we want all our kids to get in public schools — that helped put me on a good path.
What are some of the biggest challenges you anticipate in this position? Every system has challenges. Certainly I’m sure there will be budget challenges, and I look forward to working with our partners — the county commissioners and our Board of Education — to navigate those budget challenges. There are also the ongoing challenges with the capacity of this school system and boundaries and grade recommendations. These challenges are not unique to Carroll County; a lot of school systems are wrestling with these things.
What is one place you’ve traveled that was amazing? I traveled to South Korea for a work-related trip and it was really amazing. During the 12-day trip we visited a number of different schools and really experienced the culture. It is a beautiful place with incredibly wonderful people and it’s certainly welcoming. I learned a lot just diving into another culture.
Education has been in the national spotlight a lot over the past year, how does that type of attention on education at the national level impact us here at the local level? Typically, you will see pieces of the things happening at the national level at the local level. It may not be at the same level or to the same degree, but there are trickle-down impacts. For example, following the terrible tragedy at Parkland and then in Santa Fe, I was encouraged to see the county quickly put school resource officer funding in the budget for the coming year to enhance school security. It’s awful that we have to think about those kinds of things, but we do. Safety of students has to be very first thing. For all these other great things to happen we have to do everything we can to maintain safety and security. We do need to pay attention to what is happening at the national level and in legislation — as removed as we think we are from some of the issues, they all have implications here to some degree.
What is one thing that people probably don’t know about you that they’d probably find interesting? Two things come to mind. First: I actually did work for Carroll County Public Schools once before. When I was a student in college, during winter break I worked as a part-time janitor at Sandymount Elementary School. I was an evening custodian, and I did it for two winters. It was valuable — it helped me be a better teacher and principal, understanding the important work that has to happen to make a healthy environment for learning. I have a lot of respect for our support staff.
Another thing people probably don’t know is that I play the drums and the guitar.