DURHAM — Durham Public Schools is moving in the right direction but has much room for improvement, Superintendent Eric Becoats said in a speech at the Carolina Theatre Wednesday night.
In his annual state of the schools address, Becoats looked ahead to 2021, a decade after his 2011 strategic plan:
“We saw resurgent growth in Durham after the Great Recession – new businesses and families coming here to launch more businesses and raise families. ... the educational nerve center of North Carolina, known both for our universities and the Durham Public Schools themselves.”
Then, to show how he hoped to lead the schools to fit this vision, Becoats assessed how far they have come on areas targeted for improvement in his strategic plan: academic acceleration, communications and partnerships, equitable standards, effective operations, talent development and wellness and safety.
On academic acceleration, the system’s “bottom line,” Becoats said the schools have implemented 38 of 41 strategies identified in the strategic plan, or 93 percent.
In the 2011-12 school year, for the first time in the 16 years since the state started using the “ABCs of Public Education” model for testing, Durham had no low-performing schools, a point of pride that brought applause.
In other good news, the four-year graduation rate for 2012 rose to 77 percent from 73.9 in 2011 and 69.8 in 2010. The strategic plan’s goal is 80 percent by 2014.
Noting an area where the schools need to improve, Becoats said testing shows that Durham students’ reading lags behind their aptitude in math and science. For example, reading proficiency among third-graders that year was 57.6 percent, well short of the 80 percent goal by 2013-14, although up from 53.7 percent in 2009-10.
Also, testing shows the schools nowhere near the goal of narrowing the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic students to 5 percentage points. In reading for grades 3-5, for instance, black students trailed white students by 31.1 percentage points; Hispanic students trailed white students by 35.4 percentage points.
Minnie Forte-Brown, vice-chairwoman of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, acknowledged the work that remains.
“Over the last several years, our board and staff have worked together to move all our schools forward, support our teachers and staff and let our parents and citizens know that great things are happening in Durham Public Schools,” she said Wednesday night. “We won’t be satisfied until achievement gaps are closed and every child meets his or her potential.”
Becoats did not address the enrollment challenge the system faces, with the state Department of Public Instruction receiving 11 letters of intent this month to start charter schools in Durham County.
Enrollment at Durham’s traditional public schools has remained flat at about 33,000 over the last five years as the population of the county has grown, and plans for a new high school were scrapped after purchasing land for it in 2011.