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Building the Future Together

Superintendent Joshua Starr delivered his first ‘State of Schools’ address Monday, Nov. 12 at the Strathmore Music Centre. More than 800 county residents, including parents, teachers, business leaders, and other community members attended the speech which outlined Dr. Starr’s visions for Montgomery County’s future. The address focuses on how to maintain the level of excellence for which MoCo is renowned.

Dr. Starr spoke at length about the necessity of prioritizing student academic success, reiterating that “we are the opportunity for our children”, and therefore must ensure that parents, teachers, students, and the community are working together to promote comprehensive education. Every part of a student’s life, from his/her family to the Board of Education, has a responsibility to make sure that student is getting the instruction and assistance that will allow him/her to achieve his/her goals. Students come first, and in order to help them succeed in the new and changing world, we must prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow by being open to new education models that integrate new technology and seek to close the achievement gap.

Dr. Starr highlighted some of the problems facing MoCo today, which he hopes to address in the upcoming years through the new models and policies. The achievement gap, changing demographics, and curriculum changes all represent important issues that, if neglected, risk the quality of education Montgomery County has upheld for so long. The diversity of Montgomery County should not be a detriment to its schools; rather, the school system needs to embrace the changing landscape, and help its students succeed, regardless of background.

Reiterating sentiments from former speeches, Dr. Starr also emphasized the importance of modernization in schools. “We… know that the future offers no guarantees”, he said. “The world is changing, and we have to move fast to catch up…What our kids need to know and be able to do is very different from ten years ago”. Again, the schools’ approach to education must be very deliberately oriented to the skills the students need, not necessarily to what has in the past been adequate.

Many of Dr. Starr’s points were based in his three-pronged approach to student success: demonstrating the real-world applications of school, increasing the student’s social and emotional knowledge, and emphasizing (though it may seem obvious) academics. He spoke about his experience shadowing senior David Hayes at Gaithersburg High School, and how Hayes’s community helped him to be successful in school and to prepare him for what looks like a very successful future. The important thing to recognize, however–the call to action, the message to be received–is how exactly do we make it work? How do these prioritizations and plans come together? How do we connect the dots to be successful?  Dr. Starr’s response is simple: the community must work together to find solutions, to help our students, and to provide comprehensive education. “Together”, he said, “we will continue to ensure that Montgomery County Public Schools continues to provide the best public education in the country”.

To Student Member of the Board John Mannes, who described the speech as “spell-binding, very, very good”, one of the most amazing aspects about the State of Schools address is student involvement. Summaries of student performances and artworks were showcased throughout the hall, and Dr. Starr made frequent references to students with whom he had spoken and whose success he sought to mimic in the future. I personally enjoyed Dr. Starr’s consistent recognition of the student’s involvement in the education process (something many educators, including teachers, seem to have difficulty comprehending).

Good news, guys. Dr. Starr has aligned, and he is on our side.

Full speech and event photos can be accessed here:

Article by Zoe Johnson, SAC press correspondent
Photo credit: Montgomery County Public Schools

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