During his first State of the Schools address Monday, Montgomery County schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr highlighted the need for the school system to lead the way for education nationally, and the need for the county, businesses and nonprofits to continue to partner together and invest in schools.
“Thankfully, now that No Child Left Behind is going away, it gives us an opportunity for our community — and our country — to rethink what it means to provide our students with a great education,” Starr said. “If we seize this opportunity, MCPS will continue to lead the way. If we do not, others will pass us by.”
Students need deep and broad academic knowledge, problem-solving skills and social and emotional strength, or “grit,” to face adversity, Starr said.
In coming years, there needs to be an investment in staff development and support, technology, communication and engagement, and the school system will have to “purchase different materials,” and “rethink how we use time every day,” Starr said.
“We have to be courageous enough to take a hard look at what we currently do and ask if it will prepare us for the future,” Starr said.
During his first 18 months as superintendent, Starr has repeatedly talked down standardized testing and encouraged teachers to make sure their students were not only academically prepared for the world, but also had the social skills to succeed.
In his 33-minute speech Monday at Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Starr repeated his thoughts, congratulating the school system for being “the best district in the country,” but also pointing out that achievement gaps that still exist among racial groups.
He blamed part of the problem on discrimination, stating that the school system owes a debt to minority students.
“So how do we pay down that debt?” Starr asked. “The first way is by developing and supporting our people.”
In his first year and a half, Starr has shown a strong commitment to partnering with others in the county, said Kevin Ruth, senior vice president of UnitedHealth Group, who introduced Starr.
“He has began building a true framework of those partnerships,” Ruth said.
Starr asked for businesses to partner with the school systems for internships for students, professional learning opportunities for teachers, mentoring programs and more.
“He is definitely seeing more how we can use businesses and community as a resource,” school board member Philip Kauffman (At-large) of Olney said after Starr’s speech.
Starr also asked community agencies and nonprofits to work with the school system even more to provide “wrap-around services,” and asked the school communities to “continue to build into every plan and every single program opportunities for true family and community engagement.”
Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and Stewart Edelstein, executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove, agreed that Starr has been deliberate in his efforts to collaborate.
The three this year introduced a new partnership called Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success, which aims to provide intervention and support for high school students and lead them to college.
Starr, Edelstein and Pollard meet monthly, developing agendas while they talk, Pollard said, and she and Starr often exchange text messages.
“What we have with Josh is someone who believes in collaboration for his success and for the success of kids in the school system,” Edelstein said.