More than 150 Montgomery County parents and students turned out for a town-hall-style meeting with their schools chief Thursday night, posing questions about report cards, standardized tests, high school start times and the achievement gap.
But the community meeting stood apart from others he’s held, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr told the crowd: For the first time, parents arrived bearing posters with impassioned messages.
Some signs called attention to mold problems at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, where families have worried their children have been sickened.
Some pushed for the idea of an eight-period day at Silver Spring International Middle School.
Others urged that Montgomery Blair High School hire bilingual front-office staff.
Starr answered questions for much of the 90-minute forum, held at Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring.
He suggested that parents concerned about mold work with district specialists. “They’re doing, I think, everything they can to remediate the problem,” he said.
He told the crowd that principals make hiring decisions about school staffs and understand the importance of Spanish speakers. “We know it’s such a need,” he said.
Starr said the district is putting great resources into considering the question of the eight-period school day at the Silver Spring middle school. A steering committee that includes parents and staff is expected to make a recommendation by January.
“We’re going to see where it comes out in the next few months,” he said.
Starr spoke on a range of other topics. He said the district suspends too many African American and Hispanic students. He cited an intervention program as one answer for addressing the achievement gap.
He explained some of the thinking behind his proposal for later high school start times. The plan includes a provision to lengthen the elementary school day by 30 minutes, meaning later afternoon dismissals for the district’s youngest students.
A parent questioned the benefit of such a change for young children and asked the district to research the issue.
“They are two separate issues; you’re right,” he told her. But Starr said that he believed that, “if you’re going to consider these kinds of changes, it’s better to do it all at once.”
Starr said the district is in the process of seeking community reactions to all aspects of his proposal, but he also added, “I am a believer, actually, that the school day and the school year should be longer.”
The meeting was the second of four that Starr has planned for this school year.