As a child growing up in Sampson County, Lenora Locklear would often have fun teaching the ABCs, how to count and how to be nice to people to her toy dolls.
“She knew I was going to be a teacher one day,” Locklear said about her observant mother, watching the young Lenora teach away her time. “I never had an idea to do anything else. I always loved teaching and directing.”
Years later, Locklear’s job as an educator became more serious when she began teaching real children and dealing with other complex matters such as Common Core, No Child Left Behind, testing and instructional technology.
After 34 years in the education field, though, Locklear is retiring. For four years, she has served Clinton City Schools as the K-12 Director of Curriculum and Instruction. For Locklear, this move is going to be bittersweet.
“I know I’m going to miss the interaction with what’s going on with education,” she said. “But I will stay abreast with what’s going on and if I’m needed in any capacity I’m willing to assist in any way that I can.”
Locklear said education is in her blood. Her father, Willard Locklear, was a high school math teacher and her mother, Joyce, was an educator with a Native American teaching program in Sampson County.
After graduating from Midway High School, she attended the University of Carolina-Chapel Hill and earned a degree in elementary education. Prior to the Clinton school system, she had previous roles in education. She was a school teacher for almost two decades, teaching kindergarten through third grade.
“I was very fortunate to work with the small ones,” Locklear said.
As a teacher, she worked with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction every summer and provided math training for educators.
“I really loved that,” she said. “That got me interesting in not only teaching kids, but adults as well.”
That resulted in Locklear attending Campbell University for her master’s in elementary education. Next, she received her certification in administration and supervision from East Carolina University.
After 16 years of teaching, she became an assistant principal. Following that role, Locklear became principal for a kindergarten through eighth-grade school.
“I did not have an assistant principal to work with me and I just had a part-time guidance counselor,” she said. “I was thrilled just to have this job, not knowing the challenges I was going to face. But I was up for the challenges.
At the school she handled the curriculum, discipline, testing, busing and textbooks.
“It helped me grow as a person,” she said about working with students and teachers.
Now, some of the challenges are legislative.
“It seems like everything is coming down at one time and there are so many decisions to be made,” she said. “We have to make sure everything is being done in the best interest of the students.”
As a member of several organizations, Locklear said she wears many hats.
“But my main responsibility is to make sure the learning is there for the students,” she said.
Locklear said she also grew by becoming a member of professional organizations for principals and assistant principals. She was a board member for 10 years and was selected to represent North Carolina as part of the National Association for Elementary School Principals.
“Those are things that I’m proud of ,and I feel that I was able to provide some direction in education,” she said. “We spent a lot of time with legislators in Raleigh and we would talk to members in Washington, D.C. about education. I spent a lot of time trying to enhance education through those positions.”
One of the most rewarding moments in her career was when former first-grade students, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, made a documentary titled “Looking for Ms. Locklear.”
“That was highlight to know you had an impact on students,” she said. “It meant a lot to know they remembered me.”
It chronicled their search for Locklear and their journey, which led them to interacting with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
“They finally found me and knew my dad was Lumbee Indian,” she said.
Rhett and Neal received several film awards for their work and Locklear reunited with former students through it.
“As a principal, I told teachers never to underestimate what children see in you,” Locklear said. “Always be the teacher they’re going to love and respect and you’re going to go far with them.”
She has a couple more weeks with Clinton City Schools before her official retirement, something she said she’ s not really planned a lot for yet.
“I really have not made any plans,” she said. “My heart and mind is open to wherever God leads me. It could be something in education. It could be something in another career or it could be just enjoying life.”