By Rebekah Seder, Program Coordinator
While Montgomery County has a reputation of being a homogeneous and wealthy jurisdiction, in reality the county is rapidly changing. In the words of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, who recently spoke with members of the Public Education Working Group, “we are no longer the image people think we are.” The county is now marked by changing demographics, increasing poverty, and a student body growing by 3,000 students each year. To Dr. Starr, however, these issues are not challenges to be “dealt with,” but opportunities for Montgomery County to continue to lead the country in providing quality public education to all.
Dr. Starr, who started in his position this past July, outlined some of the areas he has been focusing on during his transition, including:
- Curriculum 2.0: With funds from a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, MCPS has launched a new curriculum that is focused on developing the “whole student,” by integrating core academics with arts, social sciences, and humanities. Based on internationally-driven standards, Curriculum 2.0 is being introduced in grades K-2, with the expectation that it will be integrated into additional grades over time, and as funding allows.
- Professional development: In Dr. Starr’s words, variability in student performance is not always a “student learning problem, but an adult learning problem.” For this reason, providing ample opportunities for teachers to engage in effective professional development plays an integral role in creating a “21st century culture” of continuous learning and information sharing.
- Issues of race and equity: Putting issues of race and equity on the table and dealing with them frankly is central to Dr. Starr’s efforts to improve the achievement levels of all students in the school system. Dr. Starr spoke about the achievement disparities between white, Hispanic, and African American students not as an “achievement gap,” but rather an “education debt” that has accrued over time due to structural barriers that have impacted achievement for decades. MCPS will take a comprehensive and integrated approach to improving the achievement of all students, by honing the processes by which schools intervene to provide supportive services to students and families, ensuring differentiated instruction to address the individual learning needs of each student, and partnering with community agencies to facilitate parental engagement.
Recognizing that MCPS is already one of the strongest school systems in the country, Dr. Starr is determined to build on MCPS’s solid foundation to continue strengthening schools, and avoid the risk of stagnation. There are many opportunities for local funders to help ensure MCPS’s continued improvement. At a big picture level, Dr. Starr emphasized his hope to partner with the philanthropic community to look deeply at what works in education reform and to serve as a thought partner on strategically aligning all aspects of the MCPS system to be as effective as possible. Dr. Starr also highlighted the potential for philanthropic support of smaller projects as well, such as a mobile outreach van that could provide basic medical care, bilingual counseling, and other services to promote community engagement in the public education system.
This was the second in a series of Public Education Working Group meetings focusing on education throughout the region. In June, funders met with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Superintendent William Hite. Later this fall, funders will meet with school officials from Northern Virginia.