Growing up in poverty and in a single-parent household is sometimes used as ia reason to explain why students don’t grow up to become influential and isuccessful adults.
However, that excuse didn’t hold back Newton High School Principal Craig Lockhart from developing into a community leader who’s making a positive difference in his community. And Lockhart is doing his best to pass on his values through his job as he strongly believes that a good education is what makes a person successful in life regardless of their race or background.
Lockhart grew up in the tiny town Butler, Ga., located in Taylor County midway between Macon and Columbus, where he said poverty existed, but he believes that having a strong support system helped him succeed despite any challenges in his path.
“I grew up in severe poverty, and I grew up in a single-parent household and despite the obstacles that were already in front of me, I had a very supportive family and a very supportive school upbringing,” Lockhart said. “My teachers were of all races and they all treated me with respect.”
Lockhart graduated from Taylor County High School in 1992. At the time, his high school continued to have segregated proms, which he said did not end until 2003.
“There were some definite differences between races, but for me, my personal experience was that they all treated me with a lot of respect and support,” he said.
Lockhart went on to attend college at nearby Fort Valley State University, a historically black college and university in the city of Fort Valley. He graduated from the college in 1996 with a degree in biology and returned to Taylor County to become a science teacher in 1997 at his high school. After two years of teaching science, algebra and drama at the school, he decided to further his education and study for his master’s degree at Georgia State University.
When he moved to Atlanta in 1999, he was the first hire at the newly-formed Cedar Grove Middle School in DeKalb County, where he again taught science and then rose to the rank of assistant principal at the middle school. Lockhart met his wife, Terrie, while working at the school and the two moved back to Taylor County in 2004, where he became the principal of Taylor County Upper Elementary School, which taught grades third to sixth.
Lockhart said while there he witnessed firsthand how some black students, a number of them growing up in poverty, weren’t necessarily receiving the type of attention they needed to gain a proper education.
“As far as culture goes, we like many other schools were suffering from the fact that school had changed but a lot of our educational practices had not changed in that a lot of the students who were impoverished really were not getting the attention that they needed,” Lockhart said. “They did not get the teaching styles that they really needed in order to engage them and to reach them.
“So we had to do a lot of transformation in our practices and in our beliefs and in our level of expectations. Expectations was a big issue and we raised those expectations.”
Lockhart said one out of every six students at the elementary school was receiving special education services and that it was due to the inability to teach and understand the student population.
“The teachers there were well intentioned, but they did not understand the child that was sitting in front of them and the answer was to label them,” he said. “That practice did not work. We were not getting any type of positive results so we had to rethink our strategy and once we rethought the strategy and raised our expectation, once we showed the children regardless of their background we cared for them, we were able to make a difference.”
Lockhart and his wife went on to earn their doctorates from Argosy University in Sarasota, Fla. and both became nationally board certified teachers in science. He said this was an important step at the time, because they both were viewed as black role models for the community of Taylor County.
“We had to show this particular population that African Americans can excel and be successful if we apply ourselves. In that community, they really did not have very many role models that they could look at that looked like those children and help them see what they could accomplish,” Lockhart said. “I was blessed to turn that elementary school into a very successful elementary school.”
In 2009, Lockhart, his wife and their three children then moved to Bibb County, where Lockhart took on the opportunity to serve as the assistant superintendent for the Bibb County School System. He said he enjoyed working in a central office setting, but decided that he’d rather work with the students.
“I found that my passion had always been working directly with children. I personally belief that I can make a greater impact by being in their presences than being a policy maker,” he said.
He was named the principal of Newton High School in 2010 and said he has enjoyed the journey ever since.
As an educator who has worked in the business for 16 years, who has had experience with elementary, middle and high schools and has worked in a rural, suburban, urban and metropolitan systems, Lockhart said, in his opinion, many people in the black community have lost their value of education. He said the same holds true, not just in the black community, but in American culture overall.
“The common denominator that I see in all of these places is that we as a people, and I wouldn’t limit this to black people, definitely I would not, but we as a people must learn focus and discipline,” Lockhart said. “Americans are smart people as a whole, but our American culture does not honor education as many other cultures do. And when education is not a priority, what we see in schools is the direct result.”
“We must learn to honor education again and make it a priority and demonstrate discipline. Discipline is key. Before there can ever be student achievement, there must be order. You have to have a foundation of order in order for people to learn,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart also added that in the black community education has become less of a priority to some people because it’s already there readily available, the way it wasn’t many years ago.
“We valued education, because we didn’t have it. Now that we have it, we take it for granted,” Lockhart said. “But it’s still our number one resource. It is still the number one way to rise from poverty.”
As he has overcome his own personal obstacles and has risen to a level to continue mentoring youth, Lockhart said he is blessed to serve as principal at Newton High School, where he has much hope for all of his students.
“The vast majority of the students here I have encountered at Newton High School, they want to be taught. They want to rise to the occasion, but they need help. They cannot do it on their own,” Lockhart said. “We as a community and as a society have to get back into the business of raising children. That means that feelings are going to be hurt, that means that we have to express tough love. But it’s necessary if you are going to prepare a person to take over the world.”