School start times, student workload, cell phone policies, and standardized testing are just a few of the discussions that Montgomery County Public Schools’ superintendent leads.
This past February, Joshua Starr stepped down as MCPS superintendent. His four years as superintendent were highlighted by efforts to reduce amounts of standardized testing, both in Montgomery County and across the nation. To this day, Board of Education members remain quiet about Starr’s resignation.
Former MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers is currently serving as interim superintendent until replaced. MCPS has hired search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to lead the search for the new superintendent. Four forums and a poll occurred in March to gather the community’s input. Apart from rumors, identities of possible candidates remain confidential.
The position is highly challenging and stressful. Rumor has it that past MCPS superintendent Jerry Weast kept a fax machine in his bedroom to stay on top of the heavy workload. It is vital to ensure that the next superintendent is qualified and is prepared to handle the county’s demands.
A comprehensive description of the ideal superintendent can be found in MCPS’ report, which lists desirable traits from the blatantly obvious “not a bully” to the thoughtful “a bilingual person who knows the African American [culture] and other cultures.”
The superintendent’s primary job is to prepare students for successful futures. The conclusion of MCPS’ Desired Characteristics Statement states that “the sought after candidate will be one who… puts students at the forefront of decisions,” yet students are almost voiceless in this decision. Only one student– a representative from the countywide high school student government, MCR-SGA– will serve on the superintendent search panel.
The brief section of the aforementioned report on students’ perspectives reveals discrepancies between student wants and the direction of the search. Students report that one of MCPS’ issues is that the county “always has to be ahead of the curve – [there is too much] pressure to be the first and the best,” but MCPS wrote that one of its priorities is having a superintendent who will “elevate the national reputation of the district.” The superintendent should focus on providing exceptional opportunity for its students. If he or she were to focus on touting the county’s excellence to the nation, his or her effort to educate and nurture the students would fall short. The most effective way to “elevate the national reputation”– teaching for the test– is the least effective way to develop healthy, smart thinkers.
Furthermore, students note that MCPS “[responds] to parental pressure too quickly,” but according to the county’s report, most of the accepted criteria that shapes the search comes from parents.
MCPS hopes to elect its new superintendent this summer. Let’s hope that despite students’ lack of a voice in the process, their needs will come first in the selection.
Article by MoCo Student Staff Columnist Zoe Nuechterlein of BCC High School