Montgomery County’s departing schools chief reflected on his record as leader of Maryland’s largest school system and said that sometimes expectations for superintendents are out of step with reality, according to an exit interview posted online Sunday.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, whose resignation takes effect Monday, did not mention his own circumstances specifically when asked about the “short shelf life” of urban school superintendents in a Q&A with National Public Radio blogger Anya Kamenetz.
“I think the expectations for the superintendent can be not aligned with reality sometimes,” Starr said in the NPR interview.
“One reason is the incredible polemics of the reform or school-improvement movement that’s going on these days,” he said. “With [issues like] testing, school choice, superintendents have to act in the middle. We’re stewards of the community’s values. And we also have to comply with the accountability regs from the state and the feds.
“People want to see dramatic improvement quickly,” Starr said. “The expectation that a superintendent can do it alone I think just doesn’t work well. It takes an entire community to eliminate the achievement gap and raise standards.
“And the budget issues don’t help.”
Starr is leaving the school district of 154,000 students after failing to gain majority support for his reappointment on the eight-member school board, according to county officials familiar with the deliberations who spoke to The Washington Post. He arrived in Montgomery in 2011 from Stamford, Conn., where he also was superintendent.
School officials announced a separation agreement with Starr on Feb. 3.
Starr, 45, declined requests for an exit interview made by The Washington Post. Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said Starr did not grant interviews to local media as he prepared to step down.
On his accomplishments as superintendent, Starr said:
“Well, I’m proud of our results. Graduation rates are up across the board, and we’ve also narrowed the gap in graduation. SAT and AP scores continue to be high. I’m proud of that. We also reduced suspensions pretty significantly.
“The second thing is the way that we’ve redefined what public education should look like, to include creative problem solving and social and emotional well-being to be as important as academic success,” he said.
“We saw the biggest one-year increase in graduation rates at Wheaton High School, where we reframed what teaching and learning looks like by focusing on project-based learning.”
Montgomery’s district-wide graduation rate increased to 89.7 percent in 2014, from 86.8 percent in 2011, according to district data. State rates improved during the same years.
The graduation rate at Wheaton High School rose by 9.6 percentage points to 78.2 percent in 2014. But in 2013, the rate at Wheaton had dropped 7.5 percentage points from a year earlier. From 2011 to 2014, the Wheaton High rate was up 4.1 percentage points, while the district-wide rate rose 2.9 percentage points, district figures show.
The Q&A with NPR can be found here.