by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm 334 0

MCPSWith plenty of sun and temperatures above 40 degrees, Monday might be the nicest “snow day” Montgomery County students have enjoyed in a long time.

But the school system’s move to close school on Monday might also mean an extra day of school tacked on to the end of the calendar in June.

Monday’s school cancellation was the fifth of the 2014-2015 school year, one more than the four inclement weather days MCPS builds into its schedule.

That means the school year could be continued to June 15, according to school system spokesperson Dana Tofig.

MCPS can apply for a waiver from the state not to have to make up the day to meet the minimum amount of school instruction days required. But getting a waiver from the state is never a sure thing.

Last year’s frequent snow and winter weather closings left the school year extended by two days and that came after a back-and-forth negotiation with the state schools superintendent.

To make matters potentially trickier: More winter weather is expected this week:

by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 10:25 am 211 0

View of proposed of B-CC High School addition, which could start next year depending on state and county school construction budgets, via mCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools tabbed a well-known regional economic expert to show how a fully-funded schools budget would help the local and state economy.

The school system is facing state education funding cuts, a Montgomery County budget shortfall and an uphill fight in Annapolis for a state bond bill that would provide $20 million in annual construction funds.

To help make its case, MCPS hired George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller to do a study on how its $2.7 billion in operating and construction budget requests for FY 2016 would impact the economy.

If the County Council fully funds the school system’s operating budget request and the state legislature approves the construction bill, Fuller found that MCPS spending would contribute $3.2 billion to the county economy and $4.1 billion to the state economy.

“What this study does is demonstrate that for every dollar our community invests in MCPS, there is a significant economic benefit as well,” Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said in a press release. “For every dollar that is invested, we generate $1.50 for the state economy.”

The study also found that MCPS would generate $711 million in new personal earnings to county workers beyond MCPS employee salaries and support 17,388 full-time, year-round jobs locally and elsewhere. A little more than 9,000 of those jobs would be held by workers who live in the county.


by Aaron Kraut — February 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm 520 2 Comments

Students using laptops in the classroom, via MCPS

The chief technology officer for Montgomery County Public Schools says student emails and personal information are not being sold, shipped to or marketed by software vendors or outside companies.

Sherwin Collette, who’s overseeing the rollout of the school system’s Google Chromebook program, met with a number of concerned Bethesda and Chevy Chase parents last week. Since the school system’s Chromebook initiative was approved last summer, about 45,000 of the devices — equipped with a set of Google education apps — have been distributed to elementary schools, middle schools and some high schools.

On Wednesday, Collette said MCPS has taken great strides to create a “walled garden,” around its network of Google education apps. Early last year Google came under fire when it acknowledged it had been scanning and indexing the contents of student emails for advertising purposes.

In January, Google pledged to stop the practice, which it commonly uses in non-education email systems such as Gmail.

“Early on with Google’s entrance into the educational arena, they didn’t do as clean a job of separating those worlds. Google is an advertising company by and large,” Collette said. “That was one of the things we looked at. Students are only able to communicate with other students and staff within MCPS. We are not selling or using any information.”

Collette said he had hoped to assuage some of those fears in the meeting last week with parents at Chevy Chase Elementary School.

Bethesda parents Mario and Assya Pascalev said they came away from the conversation wanting to see any official agreements between MCPS and Google, as well as more information on the school system’s new online registration system for middle and high schoolers.


by Aaron Kraut — February 23, 2015 at 4:05 pm 167 5 Comments

Board of EducationThe Board of Education wants community input on the type of candidate it should hire to become the school system’s new superintendent.

The Board, along with executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) will hold a public forum on Wednesday, March 4 at Walter Johnson High School (6400 Rock Spring Drive) “to give MCPS students, staff, parents and community members the opportunity to identify the educational priorities and leadership qualities they would like to see in the next MCPS superintendent.”

It appears unlikely HYA will bring a list of potential candidates for the community to vet and comment on. The Board of Education hopes to have a new superintendent in place by July 1.

The Board hired the firm for $35,000 (plus other reasonable expenses) after former Superintendent Joshua Starr resigned. Starr and the Board came to a resignation agreement earlier this month after it became clear at least four members of the eight-person Board opposed giving him a new contract.

Starr will receive the remainder of the salary he was owed under his contract, which ran until June 30, a $46,583 payment for unused sick and annual leave in accordance with his contract, and health insurance benefits through the end of 2015.

HYA was the search firm that helped the Board hire Starr and his predecessor Jerry Weast. HYA has assisted in superintendent searches for 14 of the country’s 25 largest school districts and more than 1,000 searches over the last 20 years.

The Walter Johnson forum on March 4 is set for 7 p.m.

MCPS says an online survey will be available soon for those unable to make it to the forum.

by Aaron Kraut — February 23, 2015 at 9:25 am 2,098 7 Comments

The chosen design for an addition project at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School would bring 24 more classrooms, four science labs, two art rooms and a new dance studio wrapped around the west and north sides of the already overcrowded school.

The addition project would create a four-floor structure connected by a bridge to a parking garage. New tennis courts would go on top of the ground-floor garage, on the existing site of the school’s six tennis courts and a number of portable classrooms.

A new three-floor structure would be built on the north side of the school facing the football field and the school’s existing main entrance (with the curved staircase) would be taken down and rebuilt to connect to the new structure.

B-CC is projected to surpass 2,000 students by the 2016-2017 school year. With an enrollment of more than 1,800 students, the school is already over its capacity of 1,692 — even after an addition that was completed just 13 years ago.

MCPS hopes to start the roughly 45,000-square-foot project in January 2016 and complete it in August 2017. But that would depend on new school construction funding from the state, a prospect that seems unlikely this legislative session.

Still, officials from Rockville-based architecture firm Smolen-EMR-Ilkovitch are preparing as if the first shovels will hit the ground next year. An architect on the project described the design earlier this month in a meeting with the school’s PTA group after a series of worksessions.

Without the state funding, the B-CC addition project is slated to be completed in August 2018.


by Aaron Kraut — February 20, 2015 at 1:00 pm 730 0

Record cold temperatures hit the area on Friday, the latest in a week of wintry weather and school delays and closures

Record cold temperatures on Friday morning forced the Montgomery County Public Schools system to make a rare decision.

It delayed the start of classes by two hours for something other than the threat of snow or messy winter weather.

Surrounding school jurisdictions made the same call, but MCPS’ move caused a stir. MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig said on Friday morning that there was more to the two-hour delay than keeping kids out of below-zero wind chills:

The discussion on MCPS’ weather decisions will continue Monday, when the Board of Education hears a presentation on how the decisions are made and why splitting up the 500-square-mile county into “zones” wouldn’t work.

“We are often asked why we do not close or delay schools in a portion of the county, or zone, and open schools on time in other zones when weather conditions vary from one section of the county to another,” wrote MCPS interim Superintendent Larry Bowers. “This notion is based on the frequent variation of weather conditions in Montgomery County, typically between the northwest area of the county and the southeast area. It is not uncommon for the rain-snow line to run through Montgomery County.”


by Aaron Kraut — February 18, 2015 at 1:20 pm 356 0

Snow on Woodmont AvenueState Highway officials say a fast-moving but heavy batch of snow forecasted for this evening will likely make the P.M. rush hour a mess.

“We’ve seen it before and it is the same every time — one inch becomes a nightmare for commuters and our salt trucks if the snow falls during rush hour as predicted,” SHA administrator Melinda Peters said in a press release.

Montgomery County Public Schools has cancelled all school-sponsored after school activities. Community use of school buildings will be allowed as scheduled.

The area is under a Winter Weather Advisory ahead of the snow squall, which could dump a coating to about an inch of snow on roads that were just cleared of Monday night’s snowfall.

The weather front will also bring another blast of Arctic air, which officials say will cause snow to accumulate quickly on pavement. The NWS forecasted the snow squall will hit the area from 3 p.m.-8 p.m.

“While it might be sunny and clear at 2 or 3 p.m., this storm will move fast and before you realize it, you may not have time to make your commute home. Please monitor the weather throughout the day and if you cannot leave early, consider staying late or using transit to avoid driving,” Peters said. “We need motorists to be part of the solution. Leaving work at your normal departure time could significantly add to your commute. We implore drivers to alter their travel plans to be safe and avoid extensive delays in frigid temperatures and bad weather.”

by Aaron Kraut — February 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm 386 16 Comments

BOE member Michael Durso, via BOEA pair of Board of Education members who were reportedly opposed to Joshua Starr continuing as MCPS superintendent declined to explain why in a TV interview that first ran on Thursday night.

On Political Pulse, a Montgomery Municipal Cable program, Board members Michael Durso and Rebecca Smondrowski said they wouldn’t get into the reasons for their opposition.

Starr said he decided not to pursue a new four-year contract with the school system after it became apparent that members on the Board of Education were against him. The Board and Starr worked out a resignation agreement in which Starr will be paid the remainder of the salary he is owed under his contract, which runs until June 30, a $46,583 payment for unused sick and annual leave in accordance with his contract, and health insurance benefits through the end of 2015.

The agreement also includes a clause stating “Board members and the Superintendent shall refrain from making disparaging remarks regarding the other.”

“I understand the need or the desire of the public for transparency. We use that term quite a bit,” Durso told host Charles Duffy. “On the other hand, it was a personnel issue.”

The Board held a series of closed meetings about Starr’s future, but Smondrowski said there was never a vote on whether to give Starr a new contract because Starr never formally asked for one.

Still, some have criticized the publicly elected Board for not explaining why it effectively fired the school system’s leader.


by Aaron Kraut — February 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm 1,526 15 Comments

Board of EducationThe Board of Education on Tuesday voted to move high school and middle school start times back by 20 minutes starting with the 2015-2016 school year.

The decision, made via a 5-3 vote, comes after years of study and debate over what many parents have said is a high school start time that is too early and negatively affects the health of county teenagers.

Starting next school year, high school start times will be moved back to 7:45 a.m. from 7:25 a.m. Middle school start times will be moved to 8:15 a.m. from 7:55 a.m.

Elementary school start times, which have two schedule tiers, will move back 10 minutes to 9:10 a.m. and 9:35 a.m.

The debate on Tuesday centered around many of the same issues that have permeated the discussion since Superintendent Joshua 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.

Starr and the BOE agreed that recommendation was too expensive. It was estimated to cost $21 million, mostly in new transportation expenses that would come from needing more drivers and buses to get kids to school.

In January, Starr recommended moving school start times back 20 minutes, calling it a modest, but reasonable “move in the right direction.” There will be no extra costs to MCPS.


by Aaron Kraut — February 9, 2015 at 10:05 am 898 20 Comments

A group that’s been pushing Montgomery County Public Schools to push back high school start times will hold a “sleep in protest” on Monday afternoon in front of the school system’s Rockville headquarters.

Save Our Sleep In MCPS” is asking supporters to show up in front of the Carver Educational Services Center at 3:30 p.m. with blankets, sleeping bags and signs. Tomorrow, the Board of Education will vote on a series of options for moving back elementary, middle and high school start times.

A MCPS school bus (file photo)High schools now start at 7:25 a.m., which parents and students behind the effort argue is unhealthy for kids.

The video above, from the Save Our Sleep group, follows a high school student as he walks to a bus stop about an hour before sunrise. The group claims “only 9 percent of high schools in American start the day as early as MCPS,” and links sleep deprivation to depression, obesity, migraines, reduced immune system function, more car accidents and diminished academic performance.

The Board of Education on Tuesday will consider variations of five low-cost options for moving back start times and the option of making no changes.

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.

The Start School Later group called that recommendation “a sham.”

Not everyone agrees school start times should be moved back at all.


by Aaron Kraut — February 4, 2015 at 12:25 pm 1,149 4 Comments

Joshua Starr stood side-by-side Tuesday with Board of Education members, some whose objections to the MCPS superintendent’s leadership led to his resignation.

The press conference was an awkward affair, with Starr saying he felt no reason to fight against Board members who didn’t want to give him a new contract and Board President Patricia O’Neill eventually admitting she was one who supported Starr’s continued employment.

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, Flickr photo by MCBREOfficialO’Neill was the only Board member who spoke in the press conference. As Starr continued to answer reporters’ questions, the members of the Board walked out of the room.

Starr’s resignation ended weeks of drama and reports out of the Board’s closed-door deliberations on his future.

Board Vice President Michael Durso, reported by Bethesda Magazine to be one of the four members solidly against Starr, gave The Gazette a terse explanation Tuesday:

“I don’t know that it’s productive to, you know, to go into what really is a personnel matter.”

That leaves parents and watchers of the county’s school system wondering why Starr is out.


by Aaron Kraut — February 3, 2015 at 11:35 am 1,733 10 Comments

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

Updated at 12:35 p.m. – MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Board of Education have agreed to part ways, ending the weeks-long drama surrounding Starr’s soon-to-expire contract.

Word of Starr’s resignation leaked through numerous media outlets on Tuesday morning as the Board met in a closed session.

At 11:30 a.m., Board President Pat O’Neill — thought to be one of Starr’s remaining supporters in the eight-member group — quickly read a resolution announcing the resignation. The Board approved the move unanimously before moving to another room to hold a press conference.

“Don’t get into a fight that you know you’re not going to win,” Starr said during the press conference when asked why he resigned. O’Neill was the only member of the Board to take questions.

“I am only one individual. It is part of a collective body and a collective process. The decision on any superintendent falls to those eight democratically elected,” O’Neill said. “There are eight different thoughts and opinions.”

Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer, will serve as interim superintendent until at least June 30.

Starr’s departure is a major surprise for the school system. He had expressed his desire to return for another four years, but reports suggested at least four Board members stood solidly against a contract renewal.

Without support from a majority of the Board, Starr didn’t submit a required notification of his intent to remain as superintendent by the Sunday deadline.

Starr will serve as superintendent until Feb. 16.

The Board of Education has been mum on what friction caused Starr’s departure.

The official resignation agreement includes a clause stating “Board members and the Superintendent shall refrain from making disparaging remarks regarding the other.”

“No superintendent is bigger than the system that he or she leads and I understand and respect this Board’s desire to have a different leader and a different direction,” Starr said in the press conference. “It was my hope that I would be here to continue that work. …However I recognize and respect that the Board has the right to choose a leader of the school system.”

When asked why he decided to resign, Starr said he agreed with the Board that it was in the best interest of MCPS to move on now.

“The Board of Education has decided to have another quarterback,” O’Neill said in the press conference. She avoided answering why the Board decided not to support Starr.

Starr later said he felt no need to fight the Board after it had shown there would be a lack of support.

Under the agreement approved Tuesday, Starr will receive the remainder of the salary he is owed under his contract, which runs until June 30, a $46,583 payment for unused sick and annual leave in accordance with his contract, and health insurance benefits through the end of 2015.

Maryland State Schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery must most approve Bowers’ appointment as MCPS superintendent before the switch can officially take place.

MCPS said it hopes to have a new superintendent in place by July 1.

by Aaron Kraut — January 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm 672 9 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 162 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.”



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