Superintendent's Corner: Experiencing graduation personally and professionally

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 09:41 AM

I hope you will indulge me in a moment of personal reflection after this month of graduations and Father’s Day. June 2013 will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As superintendent of Durham County Schools, I have seen thousands of proud teenagers step across a graduation stage and into adulthood. I’ve heard the cheers of parents and seen the happiness — and relief! — of our teachers and principals witnessing the outcome of 13 years of hard work. Graduation Day makes the after-school tutoring, counseling, classroom instruction, extracurricular coaching, and professional development all worthwhile. This is our school system’s defining moment.
I’ve witnessed more than 20 years years of graduations as an educational administrator, three years here in Durham. But this year something occurred that was a first. Friday morning, June 7, the students of Hillside High filed into Cameron Indoor Stadium in alphabetical order. In the front row, among the other “Bs,” sat my son, Braxton. When it was his turn to receive his diploma, my traditional handshake became a bear hug. I wasn’t a superintendent. I was a dad.
Student success and graduation have thus been a deeply felt personal responsibility, as well as part of my job description. My son has lived through the first year of Common Core and N.C. Essential Standards in the classroom. Our strategic plan is designed to impact teaching and learning in classrooms just like his. Our students have always been more than numbers and test scores to me, because I have had a DPS student to come home to. He has held me accountable for my job, as I have held him accountable for his success.
Of our nearly 2,000 graduates, 81 percent are going on to higher education. Each of those students, as well as those directly entering the workforce or military, must be prepared to take the reins of leadership. They must have the self-discipline and knowledge to direct themselves in building their own futures.
We are doing better, but we have further to go. Too many of Braxton’s fellow students, boys and girls across our county, did not join him on graduation stages this month. We are combating issues such as the need for early literacy, the impact of poverty, and narrowing persistent achievement gaps that threaten to derail our children.
I am proud of all of our graduates. My son will soon leave for Morehouse College, and the house will feel a little emptier, but he and I will continue to hold each other accountable. I will continue to call on our entire community to rally around our students. Every child in Durham deserves teachers who care, parents who are engaged, and volunteers and community partners committed to their success.
A new school year is about to begin. Four year-round schools, including our new School for Creative Studies, open on Monday, July 15. By Aug. 26, all of our students will be back in school. Today, our current students and their families join our recent graduates in looking out over the horizon, greatly anticipating the next year’s adventure. I feel it as well. I am excited for what is to come in Durham Public Schools.
Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.