Montgomery County Public Schools are succeeding on many levels, according to Superintendent Joshua Starr, who hosted a lush "State of the Schools" address Monday.
Starr and his 500 to 600 guests spent much of the morning at The Music Center at Strathmore revelling in the system's many gifts: The highest high school graduation rate of any large school system; scores of talented students excelling in music, visual art, science and math; and millions of dollars in college scholarship funds doled to graduates.
Despite a history of success, it was clear that Starr's vision for the future of public education in Montgomery County is different than the past. The system's students are also different than the past—majority non-white and increasingly lower-income, Starr said.
"Those opportunities [to thrive], quite frankly, haven't always been distributed evenly over the years," Starr said. "If we're going to be honest, we know that African-Americans, Hispanics, those living in poverty and many others have not been given the same access and opportunities as those like me, who were born white to families with good incomes."
The system of the future won't be dazzled by what Starr called "quick fixes"—charter schools, longer school days and certain techonology—although he said all of those ideas have merit but are "no panacea."
Montgomery County Public Schools will focus, instead, Starr told the crowd, on "what works." Things like developing knowledge and skills in employees; good leadership in all schools; "an unrelenting commitment to equity;" and focus on classroom instruction.
A critic of standardized tests, Starr said that No Child Left Behind "hasn't worked" and the end of the legislation gives the system the opportunity to "rethink" what a "great education" looks like.
He touted the new ACES program, which will work with students at eight high schools on college preparation, and "learning in action" programs at Wheaton and Thomas Edison high schools.
The future requires "investments," Starr said, in staff, technology, communications and engagement. The future may require the district to "rethink" how time is spent and purchase different materials, he continued.
"We have to be couragous enough to take a hard look at what we currently do and ask if it's preparing us for the future," Starr said.
"We must build on our many strengths while not resting on our past successes [..] we must build that future together."
Quick Facts about Montgomery County Public Schools:
- 148,779 students from 164 countries speaking 184 languages
- 11,836 teachers
- 17th largest school system in the United States
- 202 schools
- $2.2 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2013