New Montgomery School Superintendent Harry Pitt said this week that he is committed to improving minority student achievement in the schools by holding individual schools accountable for raising the test scores of minority students.
Speaking to several hundred school principals and top-level administrators in Gaithersburg, Pitt, who served as deputy superintendent for seven years before replacing Wilmer S. Cody last week, said some other goals of his four-year term will be giving local schools more autonomy, exploring new ways to train and evaluate teachers and changing the way principals and assistant principals are selected.
On the controversial issue of improving minority students' test scores, Pitt said he is satisfied with the plan developed by Cody before he left the school system.
While black and Hispanic Montgomery students score above the 50th percentile on the California Achievement Test, their scores still lag far behind those of white students, and school officials hope the minority education plan will change that.
"I think the minority plan will move us forward with our goals," Pitt said in the speech that will set the tone for the next school year.
"I don't expect us next year to say, 'We've reached our goal,' but I expect all of us to say, 'In our school we have shown improvement . . . . We are closer to this goal than we were a year ago.' "
Pitt also told the principals and administrators that "we have nothing to fear" from the cornerstone of the minority plan, which holds individual schools accountable for improving minority test scores.
"I believe for most of you, local school accountability will be a positive and not a negative," he said.
Instead of holding individual schools accountable for meeting a countywide goal for minority student achievement, Pitt said, "we will be setting objectives to improving minority achievement school-to-school."
Pitt said he has assigned a group of parents, teachers and administrators to make recommendations to him on how to improve the way the school system evaluates and trains teachers. A task force of community leaders recently released a report detailing how the school system can do a better job of recruiting, training and evaluating teachers, and Pitt said he will review those recommendations.
"There's a growing conviction that we must give more autonomy to individual schools and free principals and teachers to make more decisions for themselves," Pitt said, echoing one of the suggestions in the commission's report.
Finally, Pitt said, he hopes to foster better communication between himself and his administrators.
"As superintendent, I hope to listen to what you have to say and not just tell you what I think. That's hard to do. I will have to have you remind me of that sometimes, and say, 'Harry, keep quiet and listen.' "