Starr agrees to leave Montgomery Co. schools

WASHINGTON – The superintendent and school board of Montgomery County have agreed to part ways, beginning the search for a new chief to lead the largest school district in Maryland.

School officials announced Tuesday morning that Joshua Starr will leave months before his four-year contract would have ended in June.

Starr’s contract required him to notify the board of his intention to renew his contract or to leave by Feb. 1. Instead he and the school board worked out a deal that would allow Starr to resign and for the board to immediately begin searching for a new superintendent.

Larry Bowers, the district’s chief operating officer, will step in as interim superintendent, pending state approval.

Recently, the Washington Post reported that four members of the county Board of Education did not support keeping Starr on the job. It would take five votes of the eight member board to retain Starr. The Post report indicated that the four unnamed members were unhappy with Starr’s attempts to narrow the achievement gap. The Post also reported that the four members found Starr uncommunicative and distant.

In a raucous news conference following a morning board meeting, Starr said he’s not happy with the decision but that he works at the board’s discretion.

“Don’t get into a fight that you know you’re not going to win,” he said.

Starr stood by his record saying that graduation rates rose and that achievement gaps narrowed, although not closed, during his tenure. “The systems that we put in place are the right systems for a public education system and they are bearing results.”

He also said that it is in the district’s best interest that he leave now instead of filling out the remainder of his term. His official resignation date is Feb. 16.

Starr and the board discussed his leadership and his possible future with the county over the course of several weeks, he said.

Board President Patricia O’Neill said that she would have supported giving Starr a new four-year contract but that she’s just one vote out of eight. After repeated questions about why the board chose to go with a new chief, O’Neill used a football analogy.

“We’ve had a great relationship,” she said. “But the board of education has decided to have another quarterback.”

Starr was not the only one unsatisfied with the developments. In a statement, County Executive Ike Leggett says he is disappointed that Starr did not seek a new contract.

“I think Dr. Starr did a good job in his four years and hoped he would be able to stay,” Leggett says.

But he pledged to work with the board to maintain the district’s high education standards.

Starr was hired as the Montgomery County school chief in 2011. He succeeded Dr. Jerry Weast who served as superintendent for more than a decade.

As part of his severance package, Starr will continue to be paid as if he were still superintendent through June 30 and will receive more than $46,000 for unused vacation, sick and personal days.

Starr says he plans to continue working in public education. He posted a letter to the school community reflecting on his time with the district and its accomplishments.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report.

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