Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr donned a black apron and snapped on rubber gloves, a hot-pink basket of goat parts — including a glassy brown eyeball — staring him in the face.
It was 10:20 a.m. on a recent Monday, and instead of working on schools policy or administrative tasks, Starr was standing in a Gaithersburg High School anatomy and physiology lab next to senior David Hayes. The two began identifying goat tongue and pieces of brain and other organs.
“I’m going to become a vegetarian,” Starr quipped as Hayes began picking up the pink goat pieces.
Starr’s foray into the lab was part of a full day that Starr spent with Hayes on Oct. 22. The top administrator for Montgomery County schools and 19 other top system officials followed high school students during that week, an idea that Starr developed over the summer to engage administrators in on-the-ground situations in the schools.
“It’s just so that we can remember who we’re serving and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Starr, who graduated from high school in 1987.
While the idea was to get a taste of a high school student’s typical day, Hayes said it wasn’t exactly a normal day, what with the superintendent in tow.
Cameras followed Hayes and Starr everywhere they went. Starr toted his iPad, taking pictures and posting tweets. And teachers made sure to dress their best, knowing the superintendent would be on campus.
“My teachers planned better lectures than what they usually planned,” said Hayes, 18. “There was more interaction than usual.”
But for Starr, it was still a good glimpse into the life of a high school student and a reminder of how fast-paced a teenager’s life can be, bouncing from one class to another every 45 minutes.
“It just moves so quick,” Starr said. “When do you get time to let it sink in and reflect?”
Gaithersburg High School Principal Christine Handy-Collins said she and teachers selected Hayes for Starr to shadow because of the variety of his course work and activities.
Hayes takes Advanced Placement psychology and is in a child development course as part of the school’s career and technology education program. Hayes also is a running back and linebacker on the school’s football team; Starr joined the Trojans during lunch period as they watched videos to prepare for an upcoming game.
“Dr. Starr got a varied experience in just one student,” Handy-Collins said. “It’s just a snapshot, but it’s a valuable snapshot.”
While Starr learned more about Hayes’s routine, Hayes said he also learned something about the man who runs a school system with nearly 150,000 students.
“I think he’s a cool dude,” Hayes said. “He’s down-to-earth and he understands what we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
Starr has been superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools for a little more than a year. Starr is expected to debrief other staff members who shadowed students soon to discuss what they learned.
Even though Hayes knows that the day Starr spent with him wasn’t completely routine, he still thinks it was good that the superintendent made the effort.
Other students “should be happy he took the time to learn what we go through,” Hayes said. “I hope he does something to make a change to anything negative he saw.”