County Executive Ike Leggett Tuesday said he is disappointed schools superintendent Joshua Starr was not offered a new contract by the school board.
“I think Dr. Starr did a good job in his four years and hoped he would be able to stay,” Leggett said in a statement. “It is, however, the decision of our elected Board of Education.”
County council members had differing views on Starr’s departure. Starr and the board announced they made an agreement Tuesday that would release him from his contract. He will officially resign on Feb. 16.
County Council President George Leventhal said the school board shouldn’t have to detail the particular reasons they decided to let Starr leave. “He has a bright future,” Leventhal said. “I don’t think a big public vetting that could damage his reputation is in his interest or anyone else’s interest.”
Council member Roger Berliner, who represents Bethesda and Chevy Chase, said he regretted that Starr couldn’t obtain the votes from the school board he needed to keep his job. “I think our school system is extraordinarily complex and he inherited some significant sets of issues,” said Berliner, in an interview, “and while progress has been uneven, I thought there was progress.”
Berliner added, “We have a terrific school system and I’m sure we’ll be able to attract very highly qualified candidates.”
Council member Marc Elrich, who worked as a teacher for 16 years in Montgomery County Public Schools, said he has mixed feelings about Starr’s departure. And he said he was particularly concerned with criticisms that Starr didn’t do enough to address the achievement gap.
“When I hear them talk about the achievement gap that is something that makes my head spin the most,” Elrich said. “Starr wasn’t hired to change anything. You knew that from day one, when no one changed the administration of the school system. He wasn’t told to change direction.”
“Part of me thinks he’s standing there as a scapegoat for something everyone else did,” Elrich said. “But he didn’t push back. You could argue he didn’t challenge the board to do anything different.”
Elrich explained that he supported Starr’s stance against teaching to the test and the school system’s emphasis on improving standardized test scores. “I think we need to take some heed to what Starr is talking about regarding extensive testing… and refocus on fundamental education,” Elrich said. “I think that was the right direction.”
As to whether Starr’s sudden departure and contentious relationship with the school board may discourage candidates for the position, Elrich said he wasn’t sure.
“Look, we are a very attractive place to be and at the end of the day we should be able to attract somebody who is qualified and good,” Elrich said.
Council member Craig Rice, the chair of the education committee, thanked Starr for his leadership in a statement released after the superintendent announced his resignation.
“His passion and dedication to our kids was evident under his leadership and I wish him all the success in his future endeavors,” said Rice. He said now the Board of Education must concentrate on “the critical task of defining the core attributes of our future superintendent.”
Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill offered few details about why the board was parting ways with Starr at a press conference Tuesday, despite being repeatedly pressed for an explanation by reporters.
No other board members spoke at the press conference and they all left the room about a minute or two before Starr left the podium, leaving him standing by himself as reporters peppered him with questions regarding his future and the board’s decision.
Since news broke that Starr did not have a majority of the board’s support last week, reasons why have bounced around with reports often citing unnamed sources.
Those reasons, according to The Washington Post, include Starr allowing himself to be considered for the chancellor of New York City Public Schools, a remote personal style, failing math final exam scores, allegations about the school system’s handling of sexual abuse cases at county schools, his unpopular proposals to shift high school start times later and his approach to closing the achievement gap.
Starr is scheduled to officially step down on Feb. 16, at which point Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer, will serve as interim superintendent until June 30.
The next step for Montgomery County Public Schools is to find a search firm to begin the process of hiring a new superintendent, according to spokesman Dana Tofig.
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