Web series spotlights a day in the life of Montgomery schools chief Joshua Starr


FILE: Second Grader Diego Rodriguez in a near whisper tells Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr the project he's working on at Wheaton Woods Elementary School. A web series about Starr was posted online Monday. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

As rumors continue to swirl around the question of who will become the next schools chancellor in New York City, a new Web report features a day in the life of Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, who is said to be one of several contenders.

Some close to New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio (D) have said he is interested in diversity and would prefer a minority or woman, as he considers candidates for the top education job. But de Blasio’s pick remains unclear, and Starr’s name has been part of the buzz for a couple of months.

In a profile presented against this backdrop, Sam Chaltain, a writer and education activist, shadowed Starr through a work day, starting with a predawn gym workout and tagging along through budget meetings, a news conference and a visit to an elementary school.

The report, posted online Monday, is framed by this idea: “Imagine what would your job would be like if every day you were making decisions that impacted over 150,000 young people in a community that’s filled with million-dollar townhomes, PhD professors and folks living in abject poverty. How do you make decisions that account for all of those kids and all of those needs?”

It begins with a 60-second pop quiz that asks Starr for his immediate reaction to a series of prompts.

Privatization?

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” Starr says.

President Obama?

“Inspiring and disappointing,” he says.

Teachers unions?

“Can be great partners and like school boards, can also, you know, be destructive.”

Testing?

“We test way too much with bad tests.”

Accountability?

“It is essential to have accountability, but it’s got to be the right kind of developmental accountability.”

Produced by the nonprofit Learning Matters, the segment is described as the first installment of a national series called “Follow the Leader With Sam Chaltain.” In one telling moment at Starr’s Rockville school offices, Chaltain asks him how much of his average week is spent in meetings.

“Probably 75 percent of my time,” he says. “Because that’s what I do. I meet with different people to get the work done. Maybe 80 percent of my time. Hard to say.” He says he is rarely alone for more than 15 minutes.

Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said Tuesday that Starr remains flattered that his name has been raised as a possible candidate for the New York job, but that his focus is on his work in Montgomery and the release of a budget this week.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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