MONTGOMERY COUNTY Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr must, under state law, inform the school board whether he wants his contract renewed by Feb. 1, at which time formal discussions will begin. A decision is due by March 1. Mr. Starr, though, has already made clear he hopes to stay, and informal talks have begun. We hope that’s a sign the board plans a robust review instead of simply rubber-stamping a second term. Schools are critical to the future of Montgomery County, and concerns about the efficacy of Mr. Starr’s tenure must be addressed.
We are not advocating for either the dismissal or retention of Mr. Starr — only that there be a clear-eyed assessment of his time in office and, even more important, an appraisal of what he would accomplish if given another four years.
There have been admirable aspects to Mr. Starr’s leadership of the 154,000-student school system. He went on an extended listening tour of the county and established a more collaborative culture that was, to some, a welcome contrast with the autocratic style of his predecessor, Jerry Weast. Mr. Starr put in place a system for the early identification of children at risk, overhauled discipline policies that disproportionately hurt minority students and focused needed attention on the social and emotional health of students.
But there were missteps, including the handling of some student sexual abuse cases and backing off his support for later high school start times. Critics complained that he hasn’t moved with any urgency to deal with the achievement gap that separates minority students from their more affluent peers. That he has fashioned a national reputation as a critic of testing and, at one point, talked to New York City’s newly elected mayor about heading up schools there has caused some to wonder about his investment in Montgomery schools. “It is not clear to me exactly what his agenda is here in Montgomery County,” was the telling quote of Montgomery resident Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Bethesda Magazine’s recent profile of Mr. Starr.
Mr. Starr acknowledged to us that he needs to do a better job communicating his approach and what he hopes to accomplish but said that he feels confident the pieces he has put in place since his 2011 appointment put the high-performing system in a position for further successes. It would be unfair to compare the 3
Students, though, don’t have the luxury of time to wait for improvements that can get them the skills they need to succeed at school and later in life. School board members need to keep that in mind in deciding whether Mr. Starr is the best choice to move Montgomery County classrooms forward.
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