In six years as superintendent in this city just outside New York, Starr has built a resume strong enough to win over the board of Maryland’s largest school system. The number of Stamford schools reaching academic progress goals doubled in the past year, to 16. The portion of black sixth-graders who reached a state goal in reading increased from 32 percent in 2006 to 48 percent last year. Starr champions the analysis of data to help target lessons for student, calling himself a “scientist superintendent.”
But supporters and critics agree Starr has shown a vulnerability: He can be too blunt. Those who have disagreed with Starr complain he was too dismissive, particularly when parents questioned his decision to curtail tracking students by ability in middle schools.
“I’ve worked with four superintendents and lobbied a fifth,” said Ellen Camhi, who served on the Stamford school board before Starr arrived. “He was a very good superintendent when it came to the curriculum. But when it came to communication, he failed miserably.”
Whether he can blend charisma with academic smarts will be a crucial test for Starr in July when he becomes Montgomery’s first new superintendent in 12 years, replacing the savvy Jerry D. Weast. At a time of tight budgets, many parents in the county are not necessarily looking for a scientific superintendent. They want a political one.
Starr acknowledged that he “could have been a better listener” in his tenure here.
“I’m really focused,” he said. “Sometimes you forget that there are other people who are really focused and might see things differently, even though you’re working toward common interests.’’
At 41, Starr will be an evolving leader for a school system that is looking for continuity. The Montgomery Board of Education announced Monday that it has chosen to hire him. It will be a big move up for Starr. Stamford has 15,000 students. Montgomery has 144,000 — and a national reputation for high student achievement.
“The challenge in Montgomery is figuring out how I can take the district to the next level,” Starr said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
After the elderly woman imparted her advice, Starr jumped into his black Nissan Murano and drove to Turn of River Middle School for a routine walkthrough.
The 10-minute ride cruised through a stratified city, from gritty Washington Boulevard, lined with modest bodegas, to High Ridge Road, where large shingled houses sit on green hills. About 40 percent of Stamford students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 31 percent in Montgomery. Like Montgomery, Stamford is a majority-minority suburb. Forty percent of this city’s students are white, 21 percent black, 32 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian.