The Public Education Partnership has put forth great effort to empower students in the community. However, such initiatives would not be possible without Doug Lockwood. Learn more about Lockwood’s background and what spurred on his passion of advocating for public education in the Winter Haven area.

Photography by Dan Austin
Illustration by Anushka Van Huyssteen

Doug Lockwood has been an attorney since 1979, working the majority of his career in civil litigation, primarily in the Winter Haven area. When Lockwood graduated from college, he worked for an organization in Virginia and North Carolina that was aimed at developing community involvement after the Civil Rights Movement took place. In order to develop a stronger sense of partnership, the organization focused on gathering people together and plugging them into their passions. It was through this experience that Lockwood became interested in becoming a lawyer and being in a position to help his community solve problems.  

Lockwood’s story of his Winter Haven life starts with his grandfather, who moved to wild, deer-filled Winter Haven where he would live out his days practicing law and raising his family. Lockwood tells of his childhood memories, saying, “I was primarily raised by the side of my mother and grandmother; and my mother being a school teacher for most of her life in Winter Haven allowed her to share these experiences with me that really affected how I view education.”

After attending Winter Haven High School, Lockwood ended up moving to North Carolina for his undergraduate, and then, graduate degree at Duke University. “To be quite frank, I did a little jig once I got on the train, because I was so excited to be starting my own adventure.” He did not know at the time that he would be returning to the Winter Haven community. But, as graduation approached, Lockwood says he ended up missing his home. “All of my family and friends were still here, so I couldn’t stay away for too long.” Since then, he has been working in Winter Haven as an attorney, and in more recent years, in public education advocacy.

Lockwood is currently a part of several school boards and committees that promote public education, including serving as chairman of the board at New Beginnings High School (a high school that serves students who dropped out by giving them an opportunity and second chance to receive a high school diploma) as well as on the Public Education Partnership’s (PEP) board. Through both opportunities, Lockwood participates in going through the school governance and problem solving for legality issues and community governance –– both being skills he was equipped for because of his law career.

“As far as law is concerned, there is that underlying sense of social justice, so in a school system you want to give everyone a fair chance to be somebody, to be independent, self-assured, and educated.” 

“I think the background that I possess from law has helped me to better understand the legal aspects of public education, as well as the business, contractual side,” says Lockwood. So his involvement might be occupied with tasks such as preparing corporate papers and reviewing the school district’s proposed lease for New Beginnings High School, etc. Overall, his understanding of the law helps him with respect to his education advocacy as well. “As far as law is concerned, there is that underlying sense of social justice, so in a school system you want to give everyone a fair chance to be somebody, to be independent, self-assured, and educated.” And, to Lockwood, that just makes for a better society.

Public Education Partnership

About eight years ago, the schools were facing significant challenges. This really struck Lockwood, creating a desire in him to get to the bottom of the issues and truly begin to become involved in advocacy for the school system.

In 2010, Lockwood and many other amazing activists gathered with the school board to form a chamber task force which consisted of the mayor, the school superintendent, people from Polk State, and many more.

Initially they began gathering data from all of the schools by reviewing historical records, interviewing teachers, examining student essays, and utilizing other statistical outlets to develop an analyzable content of the demographics to determine where and how the schools could be improved upon by the community.

After that research, they drafted a full report on their findings to hand out to the community. From this, the community recommended starting a nonprofit that would partner with the school district, local businesses, the city, and the community — and from there, PEP was born.

Currently, one of the challenges PEP faces is the intersectionality they face when one problem surfaces — rippling and affecting the education system as a whole. Lockwood mentions that, “As we encounter one problem, it’s oftentimes connected to other existing issues as well. We call these ‘wicked problems.’” But they are learning that such problems could be better resolved by having community-wide involvement where everyone can specialize in what they are passionate about and work together on it.

Another recommendation that came out of the report was to get more advanced curriculum programs into more of the schools. Lockwood knows that such practices would, in turn, challenge the students and bring them a more quality education.

At Winter Haven High School specifically, Lockwood says that PEP came alongside the district to help facilitate the implementation of a Cambridge program. In fact, this would be the first school in Polk County with a Cambridge program, and Lockwood thinks it has done a lot to revitalize the quality of education there. They are also trying to develop the Construction Academy at Lake Region High School which will hopefully improve the education experience for the students attending there.

Lockwood and the rest of the PEP board have also recently developed their PEP Education Center that acts as an afterschool program and facility for students. He says this facility has also been another outlet for them to build partnerships with the community and other businesses.

Six months to a year ago, they even expanded the size of the board and put together an “imagine” statement of all the things they imagine for Winter Haven public education. Some highlights from the statement include: “Imagine our public schools fully integrated into the business and civic life of the community … A place where businesses, nonprofits, faith communities, higher educational institutions, and engaged citizens strategically assemble and align their respective resources … Every child in our community deserves the opportunity to be somebody, to be proud of who they are ….”  

Looking forward, some of Lockwood’s future goals include helping to create a very strong alignment entity in partnership with the district that really utilizes all of the community resources. “Historically, you have businesses in one place and the schools in the other, and really the only community involvement is supporting the local football team. So, my team and I are looking for an executive director to bring all of the community together on this,” Lockwood says. Really, what they’d like to do in the future is create an institution that is designed to provide whatever the schools need to be better, improve lives of teachers and students, and enhance the quality of schools. In the end, they hope that this system can spread across all of Polk County.

“I am very grateful that the community has been extraordinarily responsive, and I think that there is truly so much talent here in Winter Haven,” Lockwood says. He knows that a lot of people want to do something, so one of his and the PEP team’s main initiatives is to help people identify what they are passionate about. The theatre and music group, for example, is just electric for Lockwood when he goes in there, because he recognizes that they are so passionate about it. So he wants to help bring that electricity everywhere.

Lockwood has already done so much for the community through his public education advocacy, but he knows that to see the kind of change Winter Haven desires, it will take community-wide involvement to begin spreading that passion for change and electricity toward students throughout all of Polk County. 

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

If you live in the Winter Haven community, there are ways you can get involved in similar advocacy as Lockwood. If you go to PEP’s website, whpep.org, you can look at the current alignment teams and send the directors of each team information on what you are passionate about and how you would like to get plugged in or join.

If you are not already an approved school volunteer, you will need to apply through the Polk County School Board. The contact person at each school will help you through this process, which involves the completion of an application, a background check, and a $25 fee to cover part of the cost incurred by the School Board.