The Gazette talked with Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr on June 4 and asked him to address pressing education issues. Starrís thoughts will be published in this section.
What kind of pressures are students facing and are they different here due to the countyís focus on AP and IB programs?
Kids are under pressure everywhere. I donít know that there is a marked difference here. Some of the pressures that our kids are under are having to do well in school, care for their younger brothers or sisters or cousins while their parents are out working at night, or they have the pressure of working, going to school, maybe participating in after-school activities, and getting ready for college. ... Then there is the pressure that kids put on themselves or that their parents put on them that they have to take another AP course or they have to get in an Ivy League school — [the idea] that academic proficiency or excelling in a sport or club is the key and if you donít you wont have a competitive advantage. ... I look at what is most needed in the world today you need people with social skills, who can get along with people, who are problem solving. Obviously you need to be able to read, write and do arithmetic, but the skills that you need to be successful in the world are not always captured on a transcript. It is not that I donít want kids performing at high levels, but if the pressure is narrowed around the academics, I get concerned about what is being missed....
What can you do to address those pressures?
I am just a superintendent of schools. I donít control popular culture. There is an industry that has been created around these things. People think you can buy a book and it will teach you how to be a good parent. There is only so much we can do in terms of stemming the tide of what popular culture does. But this is why we had a community forum about social and emotional learning, this is why I am introducing stuff like Carol Dweckís work — to say that is what is most important. ... I think you can do it by taking pressure off of the standardized tests and putting pressure on the right things, which is the social and emotional and 21st century competencies, as a way to get to the academics. You can absolutely explicitly teach teachers how to develop those skill sets in kids.
Next week, Starr talks about how the school system will partner with others moving forward.