Superintendent Joshua P. Starr emphasized innovation and hope during his second State of the Schools speech Monday at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
Addressing the crowd of about 750 people, Starr said the school system is facing both ongoing problems — such as achievement gaps among student groups — and new challenges — such as the Common Core State Standards and new state assessments.
“We must innovate in order to respond to long-standing challenges and new opportunities,” Starr said to the group of parents, business leaders, county and state legislators and others.
“Hope is the engine of innovation,” he said.
As the school system seeks innovation, Starr said, its members need to “intimately understand” the system’s operations to create new solutions.
Starr pointed to the school system’s innovation schools initiative and the Achieving College Excellence and Success program formed with Montgomery College and The Universities at Shady Grove as examples of current innovation in the school system.
Some students, however, are still struggling, he said.
“Despite our best efforts, we have not reached some children, and many of them are students of color, students with special needs, students who are learning English or students who are poor,” he said.
African-American and Hispanic students are scoring lower on the SAT than white students and students of color are more likely to be suspended than their white and Asian counterparts, Starr said.
“We have to accept that the strategies we’ve used up to this point, while effective, will not get us to the top of the mountain,” he said.
Starr also emphasized the importance of creative problem-solving and social emotional learning in students’ education.
He called for continued investment in the school system as it looks to make further changes.
“There is no other place in the country that has the capacity to prove, once and for all, that no matter where you come from, what language you speak, what you look like, or how much money your family has, you can get a great education so that you can thrive in your future,” he said.
The event, which fell on Veterans Day, also included a speech from school system parent U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Moorehead and other speakers.
Cristina Ulrich — who was named the 2013-2014 Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year — described how she was influenced by her first- and second-grade teacher Mary Hawkins-Jones, who was recently named “The Most Hopeful Teacher in America” and also spoke at the event.
“My hope is to create those powerful connections Mrs. Hawkins was able to create 23 years ago with me,” Ulrich said.
Blessed Sheriff, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School, recited a poem she wrote defining hope.
“Hope. A noun in action,” she said. “And whether we are shuffling, mumbling, or running at breakneck speed it makes sure that we are moving.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in an interview that he attended the event to support Starr and demonstrate that education remains the county’s top priority.
Leggett said the education issues on his mind include closing the achievement gap and the system’s capacity challenges.
“We continue to do a great deal with the resources we have,” he said, addressing the school system’s Capital Improvements Program.