A few weeks ago, I attended 22 high school graduations, where I shook the hands of thousands of Montgomery County Public Schools students receiving their diplomas. It was a great way to finish my first year as superintendent and celebrate the academic achievements of the Class of 2012.
It also gave me a chance to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Montgomery County will continue to change and MCPS must change with it. Our future graduates will be more racially and ethnically diverse; more will have felt the sting of poverty in their life; and a growing number will be raised in homes where English is not the dominant language.
At the same time, what is demanded of our future graduates will be different, too. Our students will still need to perform well academically, but the three ‘R’s won’t be enough. Our students will also need a complementary set of 21st century competencies that some call “the four Cs:” critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication skills, collaboration and creativity. They will also need strong social and emotional skills in order to thrive in a global society.
So the question is: How will MCPS evolve to serve the needs of a growing and changing student body?
Since beginning my tenure as superintendent, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to thousands of parents, students and staff, as well as political, civic and business leaders. They have provided me with honest feedback about where MCPS excels and where we have room for improvement.
Overall, our community is proud of its public school system. Our students are national leaders in many academic areas. For instance, the Class of 2012 already has earned about $240 million in scholarships and has set records for Advanced Placement participation and performance. However, there is concern about the persistent gap in achievement between African-American and Latino students and their Caucasian and Asian American peers. There are also valid questions about how we plan to improve certain programs.
Over the past year, I have worked with committed leaders on the Board of Education, the County Council and throughout the community. They know that our public schools are the signature element of Montgomery County and, even in difficult economic times, have made the necessary investment in our students. In exchange, we have given our community a strong return on that investment by making this one of the nation’s best school districts.
Facing the coming changes will require us to continue to invest in our students and fully embrace what it means to provide an education that serves the public good in the 21st century. I have set three strategic priorities that will help position us well to serve our students now and in the future:
Ÿ Professional Development: We must make sure that we are actively building the capacity of our teachers, leaders and staff so they can meet the ever-changing needs of our students;
Ÿ Interventions: We must know which of our students are struggling academically or emotionally and quickly provide them with effective, targeted supports;
Ÿ Community Engagement: We cannot do this alone. We must work with the businesses, higher education, nonprofits and government agencies to ensure that our students and families have access to a full range of services.
As I finish my first year as superintendent, I cannot thank our employees, our families and our community enough for their support and involvement. It is a privilege to be a part of this school district and I look forward to working together to serve the students of Montgomery County.
Joshua P. Starr is superintendent of schools.