Dawson Education Cooperative director brings passion to new job

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published August 28, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Matt Johnson/Contributing Photographer

Darin Beckwith is the new director of the Dawson Education Cooperative in Arkadelphia. He and his staff work with schools in 22 districts, providing them with a variety of training workshops and other services.

Darin Beckwith is passionate about education. He has shared that passion with students and teachers alike since he began teaching in Garland County in 1996, and he now hopes to share that zeal with students and teachers in 22 surrounding school districts.

Beckwith, 49, is the new director of the Dawson Education Cooperative, which serves school districts in Arkadelphia, Bauxite, Benton, Bismarck, Bryant, Centerpoint, Cutter Morning Star, Fountain Lake, Glen Rose, Gurdon, Harmony Grove, Hot Springs, Jessieville, Kirby, Lake Hamilton, Lakeside, Magnet Cove, Malvern, Mountain Pine, Ouachita, Poyen and South Pike County.

Dawson is one of 15 education service cooperatives in Arkansas that were established by the Arkansas Legislature in 1985. The cooperative’s motto is “Serving the Schools, Serving the Children.”

As the new director, Beckwith oversees a staff of 167 full-time employees and reports to an advisory board made up of superintendents from the various school districts. The main campus is spread out among 10 buildings in downtown Arkadelphia.

Beckwith began his job with the cooperative at the end of this past school year. He was superintendent of the Fountain Lake School District for nine years prior to accepting the new job.

“I want to continue to make a difference in students’ lives,” he said. “This job will allow me to work with more schools and more students.”

Beckwith said the Dawson Education Cooperative provides support to the school districts in a variety of ways.

“We offer professional-development training each summer,” he said. “We work with the

Arkansas Department of Education. If they roll out something new, the 15 state cooperatives offer training on that program. It is more financially efficient for the state to do this through the cooperatives than by trying to send personnel to each school district.”

Beckwith cited the ACT Aspire assessment test that the Arkansas State Board of Education adopted for the 2015-2016 school year as an example of a new program for which Dawson provided training.

“We also manage the [Department of Human Service’s] Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program for about 30 pre-kindergartens in the state,” Beckwith said.

“One thing we are particularly proud of at Dawson is our role in supporting the newly formed Garland County Pre-K Curriculum,” Beckwith said. “It is one of only a few

countywide pre-kindergartens in Arkansas. It adds

125 seats to the ABC program and will be housed in Hot Springs.”

Beckwith said the Dawson Education Cooperative offers a wide variety of other services to its member schools. More information is available on the website dawsonesc.com.

“Once we get settled in, I’m committed to getting out to the various school districts and seeing what their needs are. I want to stay on top of that. The needs of the schools are ever-changing, and to address that, you have to be among them,” Beckwith said.

“I believe in teaching. It is one of the most noble professions on Earth. My message to teachers is, ‘Always believe in kids,’” he said.

“No matter what their situation, it’s not the kids’ fault. We [teachers] have to be there to encourage and support them, … to make sure they have the opportunities to be successful,” Beckwith said.

“Our kids deserve to have the best education we can provide them. We, as educators, have an opportunity to make a difference in their lives,” he said.

“I hope within the next 10 years to continue to make a difference with kids. I want to inspire my fellow educators and keep this profession alive,” Beckwith said.

“We have to have passion for what we are doing,” he said. “If we don’t, how can we expect it to keep going?

“We need to keep the pipeline open; we need the best-of-the-best teachers.”

Born in Hot Springs, Beckwith is the son of Mary Lou and Leonard Beckwith of Hot Springs. Darin Beckwith’s mother was a stay-at-home mom, and his dad retired after 35 years with the Hot Springs Fire Department. Darin has three siblings — a twin sister, Debbie Beckwith, and two brothers, Gary and Greg Beckwith.

Darin Beckwith is a graduate of Cutter

Morning Star High School, as are his siblings.

“Teaching and coaching was my second career. [Working in] radio was my childhood dream,” Beckwith said, smiling.

“I started out when I was a junior in high school working for an AM station, … working as a DJ and running previously recorded stuff. I went on to Arkansas State University, where I was an announcer for the KASU campus radio station and earned a degree in radio and television broadcasting,” he said.

“I graduated in December 1989 and went to work for [KQUS US97.5.FM] radio station in Hot Springs. I worked my way up from radio announcer doing a morning-time show, as well as serving as public-service and news director to the program director, which was what I was when I decided to leave radio,” he said.

“Through radio, I became familiar with the public schools, working with different programs, such as the Red Ribbon Campaign,” Beckwith said. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’

“If you have a plan, tell it to God. … He will laugh and put you where he wants you. That’s what happened to me, and here I am, working in 21st-century education.”

Beckwith left the radio business in 1995 and completed his education training internship at Malvern High School, where he taught physical education, speech and media production and was assistant baseball coach.

“The skills I learned from my radio career — such as public speaking and public relations — have carried over into my education career,” he said.

Beckwith accepted his first teaching job at Jessieville High School in August 1996 and remained there until August 2000. He taught speech, television broadcasting and production, and character education, and he was assistant coach for both football and baseball.

In August 2000, Beckwith was hired as the assistant principal at Lakeside Middle School, where he remained until July 2003, when he became principal. In July 2005, Beckwith became principal at Lakeside High School, where he stayed until July 2007, when he was hired as superintendent of the Fountain Lake School District.

Beckwith holds a Master of Science in Educational Leadership degree with certification for secondary principal from Henderson State University, and a superintendent certificate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Beckwith and his family live in the Jessieville area of Garland County.

“I don’t have any plans to move to Arkadelphia,” he said. “The director of Dawson has to live in the area the cooperative serves, and

Jessieville is in that area.”

Beckwith’s wife, Tanya, is from Jessieville. She is an administrative assistant in the superintendent’s office in the Lakeside School District.

The Beckwiths have one son, Hayden, 17, who is a senior at Fountain Lake Charter High School.

“He is a great kid. God has blessed us,” Darin Beckwith said.

“He’s played basketball and baseball, and now, in his senior year, he wants to take up tennis,” Beckwith said with a smile. “He’s leaning toward engineering but enjoys mission work, too. He’s been on mission trips to Japan and Honduras.

“I tell him whatever he does is fine with me. I tell him, as I tell others, what’s important for anyone is to remember your faith and family, find your passion, make a difference and stay humble. If you do these four things, it doesn’t matter what you do, you will succeed.

“Money is not everything. … That passion piece is so important. With passion comes reward.”