In July, Locke, 40, will be inaugurated as the 11th headmaster in the 227-year history of Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, leaving behind the Isadore Newman School in the Big Easy for a venerable local institution with a state-of-the-art campus and a roster of highly successful and well-known alums.
"In a small setting like Newman and Episcopal Academy, I get a chance to know the students," he said. "To me, that's why you go into education in first place. I live next to school here and will there - so I can have kids over for lunch."
Locke will replace Hamilton Clark, who helmed the school for 11 years before announcing he would become head of the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon.
A 12-member search committee and a consulting firm screened hundreds of candidates before narrowing the finalists down to nine. Gary Madeira, chairman of Episcopal's board of trustees and head of the search committee, said the committee was impressed that Locke was "a teacher, an administrator, and an extremely likable, articulate, and confident leader."
Until five years ago, he was also determined to be a public school superintendent. After graduating from Rutgers University in 1993, Locke began his career teaching English to eighth and ninth graders in East Brunswick, N.J. In 1999, Cherry Hill hired him as an assistant middle school principal, then quickly promoted him to elementary school principal and director of curriculum.
"The superintendent there took me under his wing. ... That was great," he said.
As he was interviewing in several districts for his dream job, a friend at Penn suggested he look at Isidore Newman, which, like Episcopal, is a private school with a national reputation for excellence.
"I fell in love with it right away," said Locke, who earned a doctorate from Penn in 2005.
In addition to strengthening Newman's curriculum, Locke dramatically improved the school's bottom line, increasing annual giving by 75 percent, growing the school's endowment to $30 million, and accumulating operating budget surpluses over the last five years, according to school officials.
Dale Smith, the associate head of Newman, who will replace Locke, said he was "a good friend and a mentor, a thoughtful educational leader I admire immensely. I will miss him tremendously."
A growing family and a gravitational pull toward home brought Locke back. He and his wife, a former Cherry Hill West teacher, wanted to raise their 8-year-old girl and twin 2-year-old boys near family and friends in the vicinity of South Jersey, he said.
When he heard about the Episcopal vacancy last spring, he told Newman's staff early on in the search process so that they would know why he wanted to leave. It wasn't easy.
"I got through one sentence before I broke down. I was looking into an audience of faculty and staff and it wasn't just a bunch of people, it was a bunch of memories," he said.
But when he announced Tuesday that he got the job, he said, "they knew it was perfect for me."
As for his plans for Episcopal, he said it would be "brazen" to want to come in and change things.
"Seriously, this is such a great place," Locke said. "I want to hit the ground learning and just to get to know everyone and know the depths of what they're thinking and struggling with and then set the vision for the school."
Contact Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or email@example.com