Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua P. Starr made a case to keep his job as leader of Maryland’s largest school system last week, just days before reports surfaced that he lacked majority support from the Board of Education for reappointment.
Starr described his accomplishments, including pushing SAT scores and graduation rates higher, while laying out a vision that included working to close the achievement gap between white and minority students, according to a five-page memo to the board that county officials provided to The Washington Post.
Starr’s goals included ensuring that all third-graders are reading at grade level; expanding career readiness through partnerships with industry; using technology in classrooms to transform them into vibrant learning spaces; and increasing the use of districtwide data systems that allow leaders to spot practices that are working.
“Most importantly,” Starr wrote, “my vision is that every single one of our students graduates with more opportunities than when they arrived.”
Starr’s memo to the board is dated Jan. 22, a day before the first of two closed sessions that the eight-member school board held to consider the renewal of Starr’s contract. On the eve of a session held Wednesday, several county officials with direct knowledge of the deliberations told The Post that four board members had lost confidence in Starr. Starr needs at least five board votes to get majority support for a new four-year contract, a term length that is mandated by the state. He has until Sunday to let the board know if he wants to stay; the board has until March 1 to respond.
The county officials said that the board members no longer supporting Starr cited reasons including a failure to communicate a clear vision to school principals and the lack of a coherent strategy to address the achievement gap.
Dana Tofig, spokesman for Montgomery schools, said Thursday that Starr was not available to discuss the memo. School board members contacted late Thursday did not immediately respond or would not comment.
Starr’s memo recounted work he and his staff have done with the board since his selection as superintendent in 2011, including developing a strategic planning framework that includes creative problem-solving and social emotional learning as core skills that students need.
“Very few school districts have approached student outcomes in such a comprehensive way,” he wrote.
Starr noted that he became superintendent at a time of an enrollment surge in an increasingly diverse school system facing budget pressures and changing academic standards.
He detailed improvements in test scores and graduation rates during his 3
He said there has been significant progress for African American and Hispanic students, noting that the gap in SAT performance between white and African American students — and white and Hispanic students — narrowed by eight points and 12 points, respectively.
“We’ve seen similar progress in our Advanced Placement scores,” he wrote.
Starr also noted gains in graduation rates between 2011 and 2014, saying this was especially true for students in special education as well as for students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged or English learners.
“While we have much to be proud of, we must increase our urgency in serving our students with the greatest needs, as persistent performance gaps remain,” he wrote.
Starr said he appreciated the board’s commitment to shared governance “and the establishment of multiple formal and informal processes that ensure we are on the same page.”
On a personal note, Starr added: “I became a superintendent because I believe in social justice, that students from all backgrounds can achieve at high levels and the power of school communities to provide each and every student with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in their future.”