Durham names new schools superintendent

Staff writerApril 28, 2010 

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Dr. Eric J. Becoats meets school board members in the Durham School Board meeting room having just been announced as the new Superintendent of Durham Public Schools effective July 1.

JOHN ROTTET — JOHN ROTTET - jrottet@newsobserver.com

— Eric Becoats, a school administrator for Guilford County Schools, has been named new superintendent for Durham Public Schools, effective July 1.

Becoats will replace Carl Harris, who left the post in December to become a deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Education.

The school board voted 6-1 to approve Becoats. Board member Kirsten Kainz voted no but left the building before she could be asked about her vote.

Becoats' arrival in Durham comes at a pivotal time. School officials face a $20 million budget shortfall and have an ambitious plan to improve low-performing schools. Tonight's announcement also comes days from Tuesday's school board elections. Kainz is the only one of four members whose seats are up who chose not to run.

Becoats has spent his career in urban districts, starting in Baltimore before rising through the ranks in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, becoming assistant superintendent for planning and development in 2002. He held the post until 2004 where he resigned after being accused of using district resources to conduct personal business. He joined Guilford County Schools in 2005 and is currently the district’s chief administrative officer.

Becoats is coming from a district that, like Durham, has faced scrutiny from a Wake County judge for the number of failing schools. Guilford, along with Durham and Winston-Salem-Forsyth Schools, will be in a Wake County court on Tuesday to explain their efforts to turn those schools around. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning threatened to shut down 66 high schools across the state, including three in Durham, in 2004 due to low-test scores.

Before his last post in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Becoats spent five years serving in a similar capacity for Baltimore City Schools. He also served as director of Community Economic Development for one of Charlotte’s largest churches.

He holds a doctorate in educational leadership from UNC Charlotte, a master’s degree in financial planning from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business from Lincoln University.

"Durham has such a wonderful and well-deserved reputation for being strongly committed to public education. That is what attracted me to this role,” Becoats said in a statement. “I will spend the next several months listening, observing and learning about what is important to this district, its teachers, parents and supportive community."

News cameras filled the back of the meeting room this evening while school board candidates, Mayor Bill Bell and other public officials filled the packed room.

They waited for about 40 minutes as board members, after calling the meeting to order at 6 p.m., retreated to a back room to discuss “confidential personnel matters.” Upon return, the board unanimously approved Becoats’ appointment. His contract will become public once signed.

Tonight's announcement comes during a busy week for the school system. School officials announced their plan to improve its low performing schools on Monday. Interim Superintendent Hank Hurd will present the proposed 2010-11 budget Thursday night.

stan.chambers@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2025

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