My Two Cents: Starr Wars
My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
It looks like the Montgomery County Board of Education will not sign Joshua Starr to another four-year term as superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.
Rumors of the “Starr Wars” have swirled around for months. This week, rumors looked more and more like cold hard facts. A Washington Post editorial stated the Board was ready to “cut ties with superintendent Joshua Starr.” A Bethesda Magazine piece noted that Starr lacked a majority of the Board’s eight-member vote to “secure a four-year renewal of his contract.”
How did we get here?
Starr critics cite lots of reasons for not renewing his contract, including:
- Mishandling the case of a substitute teacher who allegedly sexual abused students
- Reversing course on moving back high school start times
- Disrespecting MCPS parents over the dropping of religious holiday names
These issues are really weak excuses for drop kicking Starr.
Many of the criticisms aimed at Starr — the ones above and others — are issues the Board of Education has direct responsibility over.
What stops the Board from drafting new employee regulations to prevent bad apples from doing bad things to MCPS students, approving new high school start times, or figuring out a way to recognize Muslim holidays?
Where are their backbones? Blaming Starr alone for these three issues seems silly to me.
And then there is the achievement gap, the infamous phrase seemingly at the center of all MCPS discussions.
Given how long our achievement gap has been present — it goes back to the 1970s — I think it deserves the infamous description. (Who remembers Dr. Charles Bernardo?)
Apparently, Starr also has not done enough to raise achievement levels for minority and low-income students.
Has any MCPS superintendent ever done enough on this front? No.
So it’s worth reminding Board members that we gave former MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast three 4-year contracts to solve the gap. We gave former MCPS Superintendent Paul Vance two 4-year contracts to solve the gap.
Did they do enough? No.
Obviously, the school system’s unimpressive record on the achievement gap doesn’t work as a reason to keep Starr. It’s merely a well-needed reality check for the Board, and members who believe there are plenty of superintendent candidates just waiting around to step in and solve the school system’s problems — and to achieve this mission within a short time frame.
So good luck with a new superintendent search and good luck finding that new miracle worker.
If nothing else, the dumping of Starr distracts us from some of the more serious problems facing our Board — shortage of budget dollars, overcrowded schools, a flood of unaccompanied minors, and on and on.
Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.