As Joshua P. Starr enters his third year as superintendent of Montgomery County’s schools, he’ll have Andrew Zuckerman as his new chief of staff to help lead the system.
Zuckerman, 36, is scheduled to start working in Montgomery on June 17 after spending five years as an administrator in Prince George’s County, most recently working as an associate superintendent overseeing 88 schools with 46,000 students. With 14 years experience in education, Zuckerman has also worked in charter and traditional schools in Washington, Brooklyn and New Haven, Conn. Zuckerman lives in the District and has two daughters who are not yet school age.
He recently discussed his transition to Montgomery with The Washington Post.
What do you think your transition will be like coming from Prince George’s County to Montgomery County?
We’re all in the state of Maryland and working side-by-side on similar reform work — implementing Common Core and new teacher evaluation systems and so forth. When you make a transition, there’s always a different culture and context which you have to be cognizant of. But we’re right next door to each other, exchange ideas all the time and attend the same conferences. We’re all on the same page.
You’re not the first top administrator to leave Prince George’s County recently. To what extent did County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s takeover of schools there factor into coming to Montgomery?
I had to make the decision separate of that. Prince George’s is a wonderful place, and it has been wonderful to me. They’re going to do great, great things, and I look forward to continuing our partnership together.
How will your experience as an administrator in charter schools help Montgomery?
The charter movement was really founded on this idea of having the freedom to innovate, experiment, be flexible and try new things out that could have an impact on broader work in public education. I’ve retained this sense of wanting to protect physical and emotional space to do innovative things.
What do you think about Montgomery’s efforts to keep standardized tests from weighing too heavily in teacher evaluations?
Montgomery has a nationally regarded system for peer assistance and review. It’s incomparable. Evaluation is important, but there has to be a healthy balance between support and management. None of us are afraid of being evaluated, but being fairly evaluated is something we have to get right. That speaks to Dr. Starr’s comments on the three-year moratorium on standardized tests.
Montgomery’s efforts to close the achievement gap have received extra scrutiny from the County Council recently. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Broadly it is something we are all working toward. You want to be able to focus your attention on schools and students that are struggling without sacrificing the quality of schools that aren’t. That is always the tension in our work. In the end, it is entirely possible to do it and do it well provided that we have the right people in place and the right structures in place to support our schools.
What was your first teaching job?
I taught sixth grade at Moten Elementary School in D.C. I actually taught last semester at a high school in Prince George’s. I hadn’t taught in awhile. But with Common Core and all the things we’re expecting teachers to do, it was important to go back to the classroom for me. The demands we’re placing on teachers these days is tremendous. Whether it’s new curriculum, new evaluation systems, new student information systems, there’s a lot of things happening. We just have to remember that it takes time to adapt.
What should parents know about you?
I’m a parent myself who wants the best for my children, just like they want for theirs. They’re going to get someone who is relentless in making sure every kid is getting the best education they can get.