Monday, October 31, 2011
by Joseph Hawkins
For those following MCPS Superintendent Josh Starr’s Listen and Learn events, they know he constantly mentions “performance variability.” Here he is talking to high school journalists about it.
In the above Whitman High Black and White student newspaper article, Starr notes the following about MCPS: “This is a wonderful system, but there are differences between schools in performance and accessibility,” Starr said, citing variability as his greatest concern. “Not every school should look and be exactly the same, but there needs to be excellence in terms of performance.”
Well, excellence has a funny way of displaying itself in both small and large ways. I happen to think the small ways frequently reveal a school’s commitment to excellence. So, take something, for example, as small and simple as student run high school newspapers. Within MCPS, there appears to be lots of performance variability, and the variability seems related to geography.
(Note: For those unfamiliar with MCPS geography, former MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast divided up the county geography into two zones—one green and the other red. Green zone schools are located in affluent Montgomery County neighborhoods and communities. Red zone schools are located in Montgomery County in poor neighborhoods and communities. To date, Starr has not signaled a move away from the zone concept so referring to schools as either green or red is still fair game.)
Specifically, green zone high school newspapers seem current, active—almost energetic. Nearly all of these student newspapers have their own dedicated website and a serious online presence. Whitman’s Black and White (www.theblackandwhite.net) and B-CC’s Tattler (http://tattlerextra.org/) are certainly different—“not exactly the same,” as Starr points out—yet they both process a certain professional—almost lively—vibe.
With one notable exception—Blair’s award winning Silver Chips (http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/), red zone high school newspapers seem controlled and pedestrian, and this is assuming you can even find a recent copy online. I could find no online presence for Wheaton, Einstein, Northwood, or Kennedy high schools. Springbrook’s Blueprint is online but one finds links to articles from 2008. In fact, the homepage of the Blueprint notes that it was last updated on Monday, November 17, 2008. And the Blueprint website appears to be an off-the-shelf template—not a website designed by students.
I have never considered myself a journalist or an expert in journalism. Nonetheless, I wrote a newspaper (the old Montgomery Journal) column for more than 7 years and worked as a writer for a year at a magazine. So, I think I get what newspaper “excellence” ought to look like. And yet within MCPS, not all student journalists seem to get the same opportunity to excel. Excelling seems related to where one lives. It should not be that way.