By Kevin O’Rourke
With Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr and the MCPS Board of Education announcing that they would part ways in less than two weeks reaction among County leaders and parent leaders was one of concern mixed with disappointment.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett released a statement about Starr’s departure from MCPS, “I am disappointed that Josh Starr did not seek reappointment as MCPS superintendent. I think Dr. Starr did a good job in his four years and hoped he would be able to stay. It is, however, the decision of our elected Board of Education. I look forward to working with Mr. Bowers and the Board of Education to ensure that our public schools are fulfilling their mission to educate all our students to the highest standards possible.”
Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice, chair of the Council's Education Committee, issued the following statement after learning Starr’s resignation. “I wish to thank Dr. Starr for his leader
ship and commitment to Montgomery County Public Schools over these past four years. He has brought to our County a unique perspective on how our children learn best and helped implement best practices to help our students succeed. His passion and dedication to our kids was evident under his leadership and I wish him all the success in his future endeavors.”
While Starr’s departure may not have been a surprise to those following the contract renewal process closely, it does evoke some concern among the leadership of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.
MCCPTA president Frances Frost said, “Based on what has been going on regarding his contract it is not that much of a surprise that he’s leaving MCPS, but I do have some concerns as to what the goals of the Board of Education are now. What are they looking for that is different from Dr. Starr? In the interim, what does that mean for MCPS?”
Frost said that the MCCPTA has had a good relationship with Starr during his time at MCPS. “He has included us in a number of programs and discussions around programs and the budget and things like that. It has been very positive,” she said.
Frost said she hopes the Board of Education keeps the goals and priorities construction, the operating budget and programs in schools. “We look at the capacity of schools. We look at new construction when needed and the safety of the schools. And things like manageable class sizes and equity and the delivery of quality education to our children and when it comes to a new superintendent, we would look for someone who is aligned with those types of goals.”
Janette Gillman, the past president of the MCCPTA said, “I think Dr. Starr’s departure is a huge loss for Montgomery County; he had vision, he asked questions and listened, he was a straight-shooter, and he was moving all our students forward. I doubt there is any equally qualified superintendent out there who would tackle the tough issues, including race, the way Dr. Starr has for the past three-plus years. I wish the BOE all the best in the search to find someone as good.”
"Dr. Starr was a refreshing change from his predecessor,” said Gillman. “Dr. Starr made himself available to parents, through Community Days, Town Halls, and appearances at MCCPTA events, among other venues. I cannot imagine how he could have been any more open to communicating with the parents and guardians of the county’s 154,000 plus students. Did he always say what they wanted to hear? No.”
“When MCCPTA went to Annapolis to fight for school construction funding last year, Dr. Starr — not all the current BOE members — was always there,” said Gillman.
“And on the Achievement Gap, his budget priorities and his public words and deeds made it clear that was a driving factor in his actions and programs; the results MCPS has had and achieved under him and the new programs and initiatives already show early gains. He heard parent concerns, and formed work groups and task forces to research and come up with recommendations.”
MCCPTA executive board member Susan Burkinshaw said, “I had a lot of respect for Dr. Starr's request for moratorium on MSA testing that was misaligned with the new curriculum - I agreed completely that classroom time should not have been wasted on standardized tests that did not align with curriculum, nor measure anything.”
As for the type of leader MCPS should be looking for to lead the district, Burkinshaw said, “I personally would like to see a new superintendent with strong business and political acumen. I have been frustrated by the handling of the child sexual abuse issue in MCPS and am concerned that there is not sufficient internal capacity in MCPS to manage such a large systemic overhaul as the policy/processes relating to the child abuse and neglect issue across the county. As someone with a business degree who has been on the inside of the workgroup process, it has been enlightening to watch this real-life case-study unfold.”
Montgomery County parent and Northwest Cluster Coordinator for MCCPTA David Griffith said he was disappointed by the news. “Dr. Starr had vision and was putting that vision into place. I wish he would have more time to see it through.”
Griffith said that Starr did have some missteps along the way and mentioned Starr’s move to change bell-times one example of misplaced energy. “But overall the numbers were improving and the school district was moving in the correct direction. I wish he would have had more time to see his vision through,” said Griffith.
Griffith echoed the thoughts of MCCPTA president Frost. “I understand that some folks on the Board may have had questions about exactly what Dr. Starr stood for, but I think now the same can be said for the Board of Education. Do we know what they are really all about?”