2015 | Schools

Why Did Board of Education Bail On Joshua Starr?

Joshua Starr stood side-by-side Tuesday with Board of Education members, some whose objections to the MCPS superintendent’s leadership O’Neill was the only Board member who spoke in the press conference. As Starr continued to answer reporters’ questions, the members of the Board walked out of the room.

Starr’s resignation ended weeks of drama and reports out of the Board’s closed-door deliberations on his future.

Board Vice President Michael Durso, reported by Bethesda Magazine to be one of the four members solidly against Starr, gave The Gazette a terse explanation Tuesday:
“I don’t know that it’s productive to, you know, to go into what really is a personnel matter.”
That leaves parents and watchers of the county’s school system wondering why Starr is out.

The Washington Post cited county officials who said Board members were particularly bothered by Starr’s flirtation with a leadership job in the New York City school system and his approach to closing the achievement gap between white and minority students:

County officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were describing private conversations, said the board members who lost faith in Starr cited concerns with his approach to closing the school system’s achievement gap and his candidacy for the chancellorship of New York’s public schools after a little more than two years in Rockville. They said his personal style was at times remote and dismissive, and they mentioned the lack of coherent vision for principals at the district’s 202 schools.

In a Bethesda Magazine piece published before much of the recent drama started, reporter Miranda Spivack referred to teachers who had problems with curriculum changes:

Some teachers complain that the district has fumbled its continuing rollout of curriculum changes required by the state’s adoption of the more rigorous Common Core standards for math and English, leaving them struggling in the classroom. And other issues have drawn public criticism, including the handling of several cases of MCPS employees accused of inappropriate conduct with students, the recent controversy over the school board’s decision to remove all religious references from the MCPS calendar, and Starr’s decision to back off a proposal he initially endorsed to change high school start times so students could get more sleep.

Others cited issues with how the Starr-led school system responded to incidents of child abuse involving MCPS staff.
Still, there has been no public explanation from the Board members who reportedly wanted Starr out, and it might not be coming soon.
The official resignation agreement includes a clause stating “Board members and the Superintendent shall refrain from making disparaging remarks regarding the other.”
Jill Ortman-Fouse, a new member on the Board and another who reportedly stood against Starr, gave Spivack what in hindsight was perhaps a telling sign of things to come:
“He is willing to try some new things; now we have to see if those are the kinds of things we have needed to do.”
Video via Montgomery Community Media