Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, used the system's first-ever "State of the Schools" address to ask businesses and nonprofit organizations to support the school system as it tries to help minority students, particularly those living in poverty.
The call to arms comes at a time when the amount of resources the schools can rely on from its main funding source, the county government, is uncertain. But the speech was primarily an opportunity for Starr to identify his vision for the suburban school system, which includes convincing more local businesses and organizations to provide time and money for tutoring services, health care and other initiatives to help students keep up in class.
Because a child who doesn't have books at home, isn't properly fed or doesn't have access to a primary care physician will often have problems in the classroom, the school system seeks to form partnerships -- some already in motion -- with businesses and nonprofits to provide internship opportunities, mentoring programs and mental health services, among others, to students.
"If we are honest, we know that African-Americans, Hispanics, those living in poverty and many others have not been given the same access and opportunities as those of us, like me, who were born white and to families with good incomes," Starr told an audience of about 750 parents, students, educators and business leaders at the Strathmore in North Bethesda on Monday morning.
This year, the school system collaborated with Montgomery College to provide academic coaches for students who might not otherwise make it to, let alone complete, college.
MCPS is also working with the nonprofit Junior Achievement to build a program to teach middle schoolers about finance.
"These are just a couple of examples of the types of partnerships that will benefit our students in years to come. And frankly, we need more," Starr said.
Montgomery County schools are 47 percent black and Hispanic, a percentage that's grown over the last decade as the county attracts new immigrants. More students are living in poverty, too. Forty-two percent of county students have received free or reduced meals from the school system at some point, and 32 percent do now.