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Superintendent Starr: MoCo faces “new reality”

The MCCPTA meeting with the MCPS Super, Josh Starr

During the evening of September 6th, Dr. Joshua Starr, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, discussed the challenges of educating students in an ever-changing society at a Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations board meeting.

“Are the things we needed to teach our kids for the 20th century the same as the things we need to teach our kids for the 21st century?” he asked, making an allusion to recent inquiries about the space mission to Mars.

“All right, we figured out how to get to the moon. Can we now use that knowledge to get to Mars, or do we have to start from scratch? And how will our journey to Mars ever measure up to the example set by our journey to the moon?”

Not without some “work”, according to Dr. Starr. However, MoCo students will be pleased to learn that while strategic planning efforts for the year have called for the creation of new “architecture and structures”, BOE’s top priority lies in preserving the culture and core values that have made Montgomery County great. The goal now, Dr. Starr says, is “taking a high-functioning community, and going higher…we actually have [the resources] to provide the best education in America.” But what exactly does the “best education in America” imply in the 21st century; the age of ceaseless technological advances, intense SAT competition, widening achievement gaps, and growing school populations?

Simply put, it involves 21st-century skills, in addition to 21st-century solutions. Students need to know “how to thrive in the new world”–an ability not necessarily measured by tests and scores. Dr. Starr acknowledged the importance of the SAT, but emphasized that “the SAT doesn’t measure problem-solving, creativity, or innovativeness”, all of which are skills vital to becoming a successful student and worker in this day. He also noted, when speaking about his own children and their education, that if he had to make a choice, he “would rather have them be great and happy people” than stellar students.

Remember this moment, folks: the Superintendent of Schools recognized that schoolwork is NOT the most important thing in the universe.

As stipulated among MoCo students, wonderful though our county is, renovations can still be made to various aspects in the education system. Here’s are some components of Dr. Starr’s master plan:

1. Interventions. Everyone’s has had a tough time at some point. When you’re stressed, overworked, or having problems with friends or at home, school becomes much harder. That’s why MoCo schools and teachers are working to enhance the consistency of academic aid, one made readily available (in ideal) to students whenever they are struggling due to external factors.

2. The adult learning problem (You always know it exists!). It is imperative that parents learn how to help their kids learn. In addition, teachers should constantly reach out and make sure that students are receiving help and instruction they need.

3. Community engagement. Ever asked a teacher where in the real world you’ll need to know trigonometry, or the tongue-twisting battles names of the War of 1812, or chapter three of Strunk and White? MoCo is seeking partnerships with community resources so students can go out and see how their education fits in with potential job paths. Providing services to families in need, another important issue to Dr. Starr, will hopefully be addressed in the coming year.

Furthermore, Dr. Starr also led discussions surrounding the type of technology desirable for MoCo schools. Dr. Starr hopes to allocate Promethean boards to all Montgomery County schools. When discussing this plan with teachers, however, he was surprised to find that not all of them consider Promethean boards necessary.

Students: what do you think? What kind of technology would help you learn best? Let us know, and we’ll pass it on. After all, the “new reality” MoCo students face is a future that belongs to us, and we have our say in it: what does Dr. Starr need to do to help us thrive?

Article by Zoe Johnson, SAC press correspondent

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