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  •   Becton to Resign as Head of D.C. Schools

    D.C. school Chief Executive Julius W. Becton Jr. at an earlier press conference. (WP File Photo)
    By Lisa Dickey
    Washingtonpost.com Staff
    Thursday, March 26, 1998; 5:40 p.m.

    D.C. school Chief Executive Julius W. Becton Jr. announced today he is resigning and returning to retired life on June 30, at the end of the school year.

    The 72-year-old Becton said he is leaving because he is physically and emotionally tired. "This is the fourth time I have attempted to retire. Friends say I haven't gotten it right yet," he said.

    But Becton said he feels good about progress made in city schools.

    D.C. financial control board chairman Andrew F. Brimmer, who also is retiring in June, said he accepted the resignation with "sincere regret."

    Brimmer said he expects to announce in a few days who will be named as Becton's permanent replacement. He indicated a likely choice would be Arlene Ackerman, the deputy schools superintendent and chief academic officer. She is heading a management team on school reform.

    A. Brimmer
    (File Photo)
    "Because of procedures, I'm not in a position to make a formal announcement today," Brimmer said. The financial control board must consult with the school system's Board of Trustees before making an appointment.

    Ackerman said in a telephone interview that she believes she is the prime candidate for the job. "There's an expectation out there, for sure."

    She said she is prepared to step into the role. "I came ready to make a difference. ... It's a challenge, but I believe it's doable."

    ARLENE ACKERMAN
    Arlene Ackerman
    (File Photo)
    Arlene Ackerman said she believes she is a top candidate for Becton's job. If appointed, she said, her primary mission would be "to bring our diverse community together around a single focus of improving student achievement and making our school district an exemplary one."

    Age: 51
    Current Job: Deputy superintendent and chief academic officer, D.C. schools
    Appointed: August 1997
    Public schools experience: 28 years
    Education: Harris Stowe Teachers College; pursuing a doctorate in Administration, Planning and Social Policy through Harvard Graduate School of Education.
    Rep. James Moran, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on the District, said he was disappointed the city was losing a man of Becton's caliber, and "angry at the reasons that made his job untenable." He said Becton had an "almost total lack of support for what he was trying to do" from the D.C. Council and School Board.

    Not everyone reacted to Becton's decision to retire with regret.

    Wilma Harvey, president of the elected D.C. Board of Education, said she "applauds" Becton's decision to retire. She said, "Becton has made some progress, but many issues remain unresolved."

    D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) said that Becton, like many other political appointees in the District, had succumbed to a "lack of inclusiveness of the community and autocratic leanings." But, Chavous added, "It is my opinion that Gen. Becton had the best of intentions and actually effected some positive change."

    Becton, a three-star general, was appointed to head the troubled school system in November 1996. He and eight appointed trustees were brought in by the D.C. financial control board to overhaul the system, which suffered from crumbling buildings, poor academic performance and antiquated personnel and financial systems. They were given until July 2000 to return an improved school system to elected D.C. officials.

    But reforming the D.C. school system -- and keeping key staff on board -- has not been easy. "It is a tough job because you have so many competing forces," Becton said.

    He oversaw a major renovation and repair program of the city’s aged school buildings, including replacement of more than 50 roofs. But he was harshly criticized in the fall when schools opened three weeks later than scheduled while those repairs were completed.

    Becton said he regretted he did not "go out and generate as much community involvement as I should have." But he said it was difficult to find the time, with buildings collapsing around him.

    "He was trying to undo decades of physical deterioration and administrative neglect," Moran said.

    Becton's announcement follows the abrupt resignation in late February of Charles E. Williams, the chief operations officer of D.C. schools. Williams said at the time that the last straw for him came when the elected D.C. Board of Education censured him and Becton for "failures of performance."

    Earlier this month, Becton was angered when D.C. Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams demanded the resignation of the schools' top finance official, Edward H. Stephenson Jr. The demand was made without consulting Becton. Becton said he would fight it.

    For Becton, this job was the third in 11 years that had placed him in a role of restoring accountability to a public institution. In the 1980s, he directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency; in the early 1990s, he was president of the financially troubled Prairie View A&M University in Texas.

    Washingtonpost.com staffer Hemang Gadhia and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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