MCPS searches for new superintendent

By Pablo Roa, Production Editor

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Ever since Joshua Starr announced his resignation as MCPS superintendent Feb. 3, the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) has been working hard to find his successor.

Although Starr’s resignation and the transition to interim Superintendent Larry Bowers went smoothly for the Board, finding Starr’s replacement will not be as easy. It will be a broad, nationwide search that could last several months and could leave the county without a permanent superintendent for the rest of the school year. Nevertheless, BOE president Patricia O’Neil is confident that a new superintendent will be in place by July 1.

“I want to assure our community that the Board is committed to finding an outstanding superintendent who will lead our efforts to provide all students with a world-class education,” O’Neill said in a Feb. 3 press statement. “While we go through this process, I know that Mr. Bowers will provide the steady leadership we need in this time of transition and that our outstanding employees will continue to meet the needs of our students each and every day.”

Leading the search for the new superintendent is Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), an executive search firm that assisted MCPS in its last two superintendent searches in 1999 and 2011. HYA has gained nationwide recognition for its work with some of the country’s biggest school districts.

According to a Feb. 10 MCPS press statement, HYA has assisted in searches for 14 of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, along with several school systems in the D.C. area.

“[HYA] has the knowledge, experience and expertise to help us conduct this search as quickly and comprehensively as possible,” O’Neil said in a Feb. 10 statement. “They are familiar with our community and I am confident that they will help us find an excellent leader for the district.”

As they assist the Board in the search for a new superintendent, HYA will help develop a job description to track down viable candidates from around the nation. The firm will also work closely with the Board to ensure that candidates are recruited through many different national networks.

Last month, the Board and HYA hosted several public forums March 4 and 10 in which students, teachers, parents and community members had the opportunity to voice their concerns with the superintendent search process and provide input regarding what qualities they would like to see in potential candidates.

“Public input is an important part of the superintendent search process and we encourage all community members to let their voices be heard,” O’Neill said in the statement. “This will be a chance for our students, staff and stakeholders to tell us what they are looking for in the next leader of MCPS.”

While it is difficult to gather input from everyone in the county––only about 30 people attended each forum––many believe that the sessions were a great way for the Board and HYA to involve the community in the search process. Principal Joan Benz, who attended a forum with fellow MCPS principals similar to the public forums offered to the community, believes that involving the community is critical to finding a superintendent that can better serve everyone involved.

“I think it’s very good because it provides transparency and gives all stakeholders a chance to give input,” Benz said.

Benz also believes that the same level of community outreach should also be a key part of the new superintendent’s administration.

“I would love to have a person who is going to be highly visible and highly accessible, so that people can talk to that person, not only through groups and organizations, but also individually,” Benz said. “I want someone who really loves children and who will come to the schools, interact with them, and interact with staff members as well.”

When it comes to wanting more transparency within the school system, Benz is not alone. While many acknowledge the Board’s efforts in keeping the community informed in the superintendent search process, some believe that the county is nowhere near as transparent in other equally-important situations, like Starr’s resignation.

“I would like more transparency from the Board about what exactly happened and why Josh Starr is not with us anymore,” said an MCPS parent at a forum at Walter Johnson. “I loved his focus on social and emotional education. These [Board members] are elected officials, so when I make my decision about who to vote for in the future, I’d like to know how those decisions are made.”

While many of those who spoke at the forums stressed the importance of the new superintendent maintaining transparency, others said the new superintendent should be selected based on his or her ability and commitment to handling key issues facing MCPS right now––such as the growing student population, concerns with student mental health, and the advancement of LGBT rights within the school system.

Some CHS students would also like to see the new superintendent reduce the MCPS’ dependence on standardized testing and focus on other, equally-important aspects of school.

“I would want a strong leader who is willing to promote the joy of learning as opposed to the promotion of maintaining and raising test scores––a culture I have been immersed in since middle school,” senior Maya Rao said.

For Benz, the new superintendent’s responsibilities will go well beyond his or her ability to handle issues at the county level.

“I’d like them to be really good at working with executive staff and budget people so that we can have a strong presence in Annapolis as well,” Benz said. “They need to be a strong representative force.”

While most in the MCPS community have differing opinions as to what they would like to see in the new superintendent, the general consensus seems to be that whoever is selected must work hard to maintain MCPS’ reputation as one of the best school systems in the nation. Through  their extensive nationwide search and community outreach, the Board and HYA hope to find a superintendent who will do just that.

“Our vision is to inspire learning by providing the greatest public education to each and every student,” O’Neill said. “We look forward to working with our staff, students and community to find the best superintendent who can help us achieve that vision.”