by Aaron Kraut — January 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm 442 6 Comments

District 18 State Sen. Rich Madaleno (left) in October with Marcy Masters Frosh and then-attorney general nominee Brian Frosh  MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, Flickr photo by MCBREOfficial

While it appears Joshua Starr isn’t finding enough support from the Board of Education to keep his job, at least one local elected official has made it clear he thinks letting the MCPS superintendent go would be a mistake.

District 18 State Sen. Rich Madaleno said ousting Starr would be “a huge gamble” with the county’s future. An editorial from the Washington Post published Tuesday night cited sources saying the Board of Education won’t renew Starr’s contract when it ends in June.

Madaleno made the comment in a Facebook post:

“Not sure who will be running MCPS next. Our school system is our county’s most important civic enterprise. This is a huge gamble with its future. If the school board cannot decide on the current leadership, how will they agree on a new direction? Who will want the job in these conditions?”

He later posted a link to graduation rates released Tuesday that show the county’s Class of 2014 graduation rate had increased and the gap between white and minority students had decreased:

On the same day many of us are learning from the Washington Post Editorial Board that a split Montgomery County school board may be dismissing our superintendent for, among the reasons given, his inability to close the achievement gaps between different ethnic groups, the Maryland Department of Education released new graduation statistics that show meaningful progress in reducing these gaps. Interesting coincidence. It might even be labeled ironic. But why should data get in the way of personal passions. You can review the data and sort it a variety of ways at the linked site.


by Aaron Kraut — January 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm 0

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr (file photo)The four-year graduation rate for MCPS students in the Class of 2014 rose compared to 2013 and gaps between white and minority students have shrunk over the past three years.

The Maryland State Department of Education released the Class of 2014 graduation rates on Tuesday. In MCPS, 89.7 percent of the Class of 2014 graduated high school in four years, a 1.4-percentage point increase from 2013 and a nearly 3-percentage point jump since 2011.

For black students in the Class of 2014, the graduation rate rose to 86.4 percent, a one-year increase of 2.5 percentage points. The Hispanic four-year graduation rate in 2014 increased by 2.5 percentage points.

MCPS said the graduation rate gap between black and white students has narrowed by 3.8 percentage points in the last three years. The school system also said the same time period has seen the graduation rate gap between white and Hispanic students shrink by 3.4 percentage points.

“Over the past three years, we have been helping our schools focus on areas for improvement and how they can best foster the development of academic and creative problem solving skills in students, while also addressing their social emotional needs,” Superintendent Joshua Starr said in a press release. “That work may not be the same in every school, but it is getting strong results across the district.”

The results come as the Board of Education debates Starr’s future with the school system, with some critics pointing out the system’s lingering gaps in performance between white and minority students.


by Aaron Kraut — January 22, 2015 at 11:00 am 1 Comment

Bethesda resident and BOE President Pat O'Neill, via BOEA key member of the county’s Board of Education won’t be jumping on the bandwagon for a post-Labor Day start to the school year.

Board of Education president and longtime member Patricia O’Neill wrote a blog post last week criticizing the idea, which seemed to picked up steam last Thursday with the support of Gov. Larry Hogan and a newly introduced bill in the State Senate.

“If there are districts in Maryland that would like to start school after Labor Day, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. But the state shouldn’t force everyone to follow the same calendar,” O’Neill wrote.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County resident and Democrat, has championed the idea of mandating that school start after Labor Day as a way to boost the tourism industry for places such as Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake.

But county and state education leaders have come out strongly against the proposal, fearing it would lead to a later end date to the school year in June and would circumvent a decision that’s traditionally been up to each local school district.

“Let’s be clear: The Comptroller’s efforts are not about education and are not about helping children,” O’Neill wrote. “It is entirely about boosting the state’s tourism industry. While my Board colleagues and I certainly support tourism in our state, it should not drive educational decisions.”

She went on to write that mandating a later school start date “will not make the summer longer: All it would do is shift the beginning — and the end — of the school year later.”


by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm 526 0

Tilden Middle School (the former Woodward High School) at 11211 Old Georgetown Road, via MCPSOver the past few weeks, a group of parents, teachers, administrators, MCPS planners and architects have begun discussing how a North Bethesda middle school might share a new building with one of the county’s special education centers.

MCPS has suggested collocating the Rock Terrace School, which serves students age 12-21 with special needs, with the new Tilden Middle School once it’s built.

Superintendent Joshua Starr has yet to formally recommend the move, but the Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School Roundtable Discussion Group has been hammering out big picture issues that would need to be addressed.

At a meeting of the roundtable on Tuesday, architects presented eight concept plans for how a Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School building might look. MCPS previously decided to move Tilden (now at 11211 Old Georgetown Road) back to 6300 Tilden Lane, where it was until 1991.

Many of the questions and concerns brought up Tuesday were about where to put the school’s gyms, cafeterias, parking lots and bus drop-off areas.

MCPS senior planner Deborah Szyfer said school staff members at an earlier meeting mostly agreed the two schools — if collocated — should be put in the same structure, but with clearly separate spaces.

Starr is expected to recommend whether to collocate the schools in February. The Board of Education would have to approve of the collocation plan by April.

Until then, the roundtable group is mostly dealing with the broad strokes. Szyfer described the concept plans presented Tuesday as even less specific than a feasibility study that would be performed after Starr and the Board’s decision.


by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm 163 1 Comment

Snow falls Wednesday afternoon in Bethesda

Montgomery County Public Schools will close at the regularly scheduled time today, but there won’t be any MCPS after school or evening activities.

Day care programs in school buildings will remain open as scheduled. Community activities in school buildings will occur as scheduled.

The National Weather Service predicted up to 1 inch of snow accumulation on Wednesday in downcounty Montgomery.

All MCPS wrestling matches, basketball games and bocce matches scheduled for Wednesday will be made up Thursday at the same time and same location.

by Aaron Kraut — January 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm 395 19 Comments

Governor-elect Larry Hogan (middle) signs Peter Franchot's "Let Summer Be Summer" petition on Thursday, via office of Peter FranchotMaryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has a new and potentially powerful friend in his push to move the start of the school year to after Labor Day.

Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan pledged his support to the idea at a press conference on Thursday in Annapolis, during which he also signed Democrat Franchot’s “Let Summer Be Summer” petition.

Franchot said the petition has 13,244 signatures, exceeding the goal of 10,000. An economic impact report commissioned by Franchot’s office claims moving the start of the public school year in Maryland to after Labor Day would mean an extra $74.3 million in direct economic activity, mainly in well known vacation destinations such as Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake.

“This isn’t just a family issue, it’s an economic issue. It brings in a tremendous amount of economic activity, brings in tax revenue, and there’s no cost to the taxpayers,” Hogan said at the presser. “As a guy who spent a lot of summers with his family in Ocean City on Labor Day weekend, it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense to start school after Labor Day. There’s just no downside to this issue. There are an overwhelming number of people in this state who are in favor of starting school after Labor Day.”

Education leaders in Maryland and Montgomery County disagree.


by Aaron Kraut — January 14, 2015 at 4:55 am 0

Weather has Montgomery County Public Schools going to a two-hour delayed schedule for the second time this week.

The school system announced the delay at 4:50 a.m. Wednesday. Bus service will be provided two hours later than usual.

Morning pre-K, morning half-day Head Start, other morning half-day programs and field trips are canceled. Other activities that begin at 10:30 a.m. or earlier are canceled. Administrative offices will be open on time and day care programs in school buildings will remain open as scheduled.

by Aaron Kraut — January 8, 2015 at 1:20 pm 321 2 Comments

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr (file photo)A group of advocates for later high school start times made it crystal clear it opposes the recommendation to move all MCPS start times back 20 minutes.

On Tuesday, after MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr released his recommendation, the Start School Later group released a statement calling Starr’s suggestion “a sham.”

The group went on to say the MCPS report released with the 20-minute recommendation “demonstrates a poor understanding of the research, as the document understates the significant academic, health and emotional benefits of later start times for teens.”

“Further, in drafting this report, Dr. Starr excluded the participation of community stakeholders. A more transparent, inclusive process could have provided a better report and meaningful recommendations,” read the statement, which was attributed to Mandi Mader, Ann Gallagher, Merry Eisner-Heidorn and Michael Rubenstein, members of the Montgomery County chapter of the Annapolis-based nonprofit.

The repot included other suggestions. There were four options for moving back school start times with some variations and a fifth option to make no chances.

The Board of Education is set to decide which option to take after a pair of public hearings. The report released by MCPS this week was meant to find options that would cost less than $10 million.

A previous proposal from Starr would’ve pushed back high school start times by 50 minutes (to 8:15 a.m.) and extended the elementary school day by 30 minutes. But Starr stepped back from that recommendation after the school system said it would cost about $21 million to implement, based mostly on increased transportation costs.


by Aaron Kraut — January 8, 2015 at 7:55 am 931 21 Comments

A MCPS bus

MCPS was trending locally on Twitter on Thursday morning, thanks to a slew of tweets mostly from students not happy that they had to show up for a full day of school despite the bitter cold.

The school system posted its decision to have a full day of school on its website at 4:54 a.m. Nearby Howard County put its schools on a two-hour delay.

The public school system in Fairfax County, which apologized after a more controversial school opening during the snow on Tuesday, eventually announced it would close schools for the entire day on Thursday.

Montgomery County and much of the area were under a Wind Chill Advisory until 8 a.m., with wind chills dipping below zero degrees.

According to those on Twitter, that’s apparently enough to merit at least a two-hour delay. With high schools starting at 7:25 a.m., many students are out waiting for buses before sunrise in the 6 a.m. hour.

Still, veteran MCPS weather watchers seemed pretty confident on Wednesday night that cold wouldn’t be enough to mean any delays on Thursday.

by Aaron Kraut — January 7, 2015 at 3:20 pm 217 0

Via OpenDataMCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools this week launched an open data site with a look at how money might be doled out in next year’s budget and enrollment stats by grade, school and school level.

OpenDataMCPS also features demographics on each MCPS school and soon will include a section showing Advanced Placement and SAT test scores across the school district.

MCPS contracted with Socrata, the same vendor that helped create a series of open data sites for Montgomery County dealing with government services, budgets and basic records.

In a press release on Monday, MCPS said using the same vendor allows for “the easy exchange of information between MCPS and the county.”

Montgomery County introduced its own budget website in August. The county website allows users to compare operating and capital expenditures in bar graphs, delve into specific areas of each department’s spending and share and embed the charts they’ve created.

County budget officials said the most common question they got after presenting the website was about the missing MCPS information.

The MCPS site uses both a spreadsheet and graph view to delve into Superintendent Joshua Starr’s recommended $2.4 billion operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

It also includes a column for how much money is ultimately approved for each expense by County Executive Isiah Leggett and the County Council.

“The OpenDataMCPS portal makes it easier for our community to access important information about our school district and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to transparency and accountability,” Starr said in the press release. “I’m pleased to launch this portal today and look forward to sharing more information with the public in the coming months.”

Via OpenDataMCPS

by Aaron Kraut — January 7, 2015 at 10:00 am 222 4 Comments

Walt Whitman High School, via MCPSThe Board of Education will consider variations of five options for moving back the start of the MCPS high school day.

Some, such as the Superintendent Joshua Starr-recommended move to shift all school bell times back 20 minutes, are small and bring little if any additional cost.

Others, such as moving elementary school start times from 8:50 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. could cost the school system an additional $5.2 million a year.

MCPS on Tuesday presented a report that outlines four options for moving back high school start times while keeping added transportation costs below $10 million a year. The fifth option would be to make no changes to bell times “and explore other options to provide flexibility for high school students.”

High schoolers in Montgomery County start the school day at 7:25 a.m. Many parents have argued that is too early, cuts down on the amount of sleep teenagers get and hurts learning and energy levels throughout the day.

The original proposal from Starr would’ve pushed back high school start times by 50 minutes and extended the elementary school day by 30 minutes. Citing cost (an estimated $21 million) and mixed community reaction about how the plan would impact elementary school students, Starr ditched the plan last June.

The Board of Education asked for further examination into low-cost options.

Read the details of how each of the five options, and the variations within those options, would affect school start times. Then let us know: What do you think the Board of Education should do?

Also remember that the Board will be hosting two public hearings on the matter on Thursday, Jan. 22. One will run from 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and the other from 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Both will be in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center (850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville). Call 301-279-3617 to reserve a spot to testify or submit written feedback to belltimes[at]mcpsmd[dot]org.

by Aaron Kraut — January 6, 2015 at 10:35 am 481 4 Comments

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr gives his annual State of the Schools address last fall in North Bethesda

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr will recommend moving school start times back 20 minutes.

Starr is scheduled to detail the recommendation and other options for changing school start times in a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. He’ll go before the Board of Education with his recommendation during its meeting on Jan. 13.

You can read Starr’s recommendation and the full report here.

Last June, the Board asked Starr to come up with options that would allow high school students to start school later but cost the school system less than $10 million a year.

The Board asked for the further examination after Starr reversed course on his own October 2013 recommendation that would’ve pushed back high school start times by 50 minutes and extended the elementary school day by 30 minutes.

After a series of community outreach events, Starr said last June that the proposal would cost too much — at least $21 million a year — and garnered mixed public support.

His new recommendation to push all school start times back 20 minutes won’t cost anything. Starr described it as a modest, but reasonable “move in the right direction”:


by Aaron Kraut — January 6, 2015 at 5:15 am 213 0

Updated at 8:25 a.m. – MCPS will be closed on Tuesday because of snow.

The school system originally announced a two-hour delayed opening, but revised its decision to a full school closure at 8:25 a.m.

All afternoon and evening activities in school buildings are canceled or postponed. All administrative offices and day care programs in school buildings will remain open.

by Aaron Kraut — December 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm 186 0

MCPSThe county’s public school system announced that it will launch its own open data website on Jan. 5, 2015.

The website, called OpenDataMCPS, will allow the public to search, sort and download information about the district — starting with Superintendent Joshua Starr’s recommended $2.4 billion operating budget for FY 2016.

The move, which MCPS announced Tuesday, comes after Montgomery County introduced its own budget website in August. The county website allows users to compare operating and capital expenditures in bar graphs, delve into specific areas of each department’s spending and share and embed the charts they’ve created.

County budget officials said the most common question they got after presenting the website was about the missing MCPS information.

The county’s $4.99 billion FY 2015 operating budget includes $2.28 billion for schools, almost half of the county’s overall budget.

OpenDataMCPS “will allow for the easy exchange of information” with the county’s OpenMontgomery websites, according to the MCPS announcement.

The school system’s open data site will also include enrollment data, school boundary information and, eventually, data points from its Schools at a Glance publication.

by Aaron Kraut — December 9, 2014 at 3:25 pm 1 Comment

Bethesda resident and new BOE President Pat O'Neill, via BOEA Bethesda resident and the longest serving member of the Board of Education was selected by her colleagues on Tuesday to act as the group’s president in 2015.

Pat O’Neill, who lives in the Burning Tree neighborhood and who has served on the Board since 1998, won her fifth four-year term in November and will serve as president of the board for the fifth time.

O’Neill described herself as someone “who gets things done” during a Board of Education candidates forum in October. She beat challenger Laurie Halverson by 25 points in November’s non-partisan election open to all county voters.

“This is an important time in the history of our school district as we continue to face unprecedented levels of growth and are preparing students and staff to meet higher expectations,” O’Neill said. “The Board is committed to addressing these challenges and I look forward to working with the leadership of Montgomery County Public Schools, the County Council, and the County Executive to ensure that every child in each of our schools receives a world-class education.”



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