Something shifts in Dr. Craig Lockhart’s voice when he starts talking about the vision he has for the Newton County Schools system.
His cadence speeds up. He projects his voice. Though sitting in a small meeting room at a conference table with a reporter asking him questions, to hear him talk in that moment, he may as well be standing on a platform addressing thousands.
“I want people, I want business owners in Newton County, when they see that resume or when they see that transcript from a Newton County student, I want them to know they have a good product,” Lockhart says. “I want the brand of the Newton County graduate to be the ultimate choice for businesses and employers in this area.”
This thesis is the passion that has fueled Lockhart over the last five years, as he’s worked in the county, first as principal of Newton High for three years, and now as the Deputy Superintendent of the county’s school system.
He makes no bones about the fact that it is the success of the students and the growth of the Newton County community at large that makes what he does seem like a natural life flow.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life over the 20 years that I’ve been in this business,” Lockhart said. “And that’s even more true since I’ve arrived in Newton County.”
Lockhart’s career in education has taken him from his rural home town in Middle Georgia’s Taylor County to Dekalb County where he worked as a teacher and administrator, and then to serving as an assistant superintendent in Bibb County.
But Lockhart says that his seven years in Newton have out-shined all the rest.
“Newton County is special for several reasons,” he said. “It still maintains the family feel, but it’s 35 miles from Metro Atlanta. So you have access to a major city anytime you’d like. I’ve had the fortune of working in elementary, middle, high school and central office settings. I’ve worked in rural, suburban, urban and metropolitan settings, but I can honestly say that here is the first community where I could truly see myself settling down and retiring in.”
The family feel of Newton County isn’t just important to him because of his wife and three children. But it’s vital, he says, to Newton schools becoming the kind of school system he thinks it can be.
“Over the next five years, I want to work to help us become a poverty informed community,” he said. “That’s a community that understands and embraces that we all come from different walks of life, and we all have something to offer that can help children fulfill their potential.”
Such has been Lockhart’s passion since his days as a student. Lockhart said he’s always had positive vibes about school and education, thanks to how his nuclear family valued education, and also because of the kinds of teachers he’s had.
The recollection of those good experiences is what caused him to call an audible right before graduating college.
“I was graduating with a biology degree and getting ready to go into medicine, and then I realized that my heart wasn’t in it,” he said. “That’s when I thought back to those teachers who made a positive impact in my life, and I decided that I wanted to do the same. I mean, I literally felt the results of those teachers’ impact on my life. And to be able to work to produce that gives me great satisfaction.”
Now in his current position, Lockhart says he’s able to combine all of his passion for building a model community educational climate into one place.
“It’s the best of all worlds,” he said. “I can work with all of our children and all of our teachers throughout all of our schools. It’s taught me that our children are far more resilient than we give them credit for and that time will heal just about every problem. If we are patient and work together, we can move mountains.”
Because he considers his job a “calling,” Lockhart finds much of his joy in it. But, he said he can also find almost as much joy in his favorite dessert — brownies.
“Chocolate ones,” he said. “With walnuts. That’s my favorite dessert.”
What’s even sweeter than that, however, is the upward trajectory he’s seeing in Newton County Schools right now. It’s the kind of progress that makes him excited for the future and grateful that his current work isn’t in vain.
“As I’ve said, I’ve had the opportunity to work in several school systems,” he said. “And none of them can touch Newton. I’m very proud of our school system, and I’m proud of this community. Every day we’re getting better.”