Montgomery County’s new schools chief has pledged to put a strategy in place before the school year starts for tackling the achievement gap that has long persisted in the high-performing suburban district.
Schools Superintendent Jack Smith discussed his plans with the Montgomery County Council this week, at his first public meeting with the council since starting July 1 as leader of the 156,000-student district. He elaborated in an interview.
The achievement gap is “my No. 1 concern as we start this school year,” Smith said. He said he will give more details at a Board of Education meeting Monday and present a plan to principals and others in mid-August.
“We have to be thinking about it, working on it and doing it all the time, every day,” he said.
The achievement gap has long been a concern in Montgomery, where many advocates and elected leaders have said that more needs to be done for black and Hispanic students in the fast-growing system. Performance gaps have been stark in the county’s graduation rates, SAT scores and state standardized tests, with white and Asian students faring better than black and Hispanic students.
Most recently, the achievement gap was central in budget deliberations, with the County Council agreeing to a record appropriation on the condition that the school system intensify its efforts to narrow the gap and reduce class sizes.
Council member Craig Rice (D- Germantown) asked Smith at the meeting this week about his plans for addressing the issue. The session brought the council together with Smith and Board of Education members for an hour-long conversation over lunch.
Smith said he began examining district-provided data in June.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work around that,” Smith said. “We’ll have a plan in place for this school year because I’m not going to study for a year. . . . The goal is to get there so we begin to see some real, noticeable increases in achievement in the first year and the second year.”
Smith said in an interview that the system would closely follow key data about learning in classrooms, across grades, at schools and districtwide so that it could be used to inform instruction and make changes where they are needed.
“We want to begin to see results,” he said, “by the end of the first year.”