Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said Wednesday that “hope is how we are going to close the achievement gap” in Montgomery County Public Schools.
“Persistent achievement gaps call out to us with urgency and we must respond with urgency, the urgency of hope,” he said.
Starr served as the keynote speaker at Interfaith Works’ 17th annual Companies Caring Breakfast. The nonprofit agency hosted the event that included attendees from government, business and community groups.
Starr said the school system aims to teach students that hard work, perseverance and good choices will lead to success.
“A child who believes that she has a bright future in front of her will have one if she has hope,” he said.
The school system and the community can create hope, improve schools and help students in part through leaders at all levels, including principals, teachers and students, he said.
He described the leaders as “travel agents of hope.”
“Hope travels from person to person and generation to generation,” Starr said. “Each of us in fact is a travel agent.”
Starr described the effect that county teacher Mary Hawkins-Jones — who received the Most Hopeful Teacher in America award from Gallup — had on her former student Cristina Ulrich, who became the 2013-2014 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
“[Hawkins-Jones] connected with that student and brought out the hope that was in her,” he said.
Another strategy for creating hope, he said, is the school system’s work with community groups, including nonprofits and county agencies.
He cited the Kennedy Cluster Project — run by the school system and the county government — which provides wrap-around services for students and their families. He also pointed to Achieving College Excellence and Success, a program aimed at helping underserved students get to college and involves a partnership between the school system, Montgomery College and The Universities at Shady Grove.
Starr told the attendees they can help create opportunities for students.
“It takes community to provide opportunity and that is what we have here today and that is what all of you do,” he said.
Starr said the school system must also make changes and take on new things.
The school system is involved in “a complex undertaking” when it comes to educating its students, he said, and both school staff and students need to work hard.
“Everything we’re doing in Montgomery County Public Schools begins and ends with hope,” he said.