Equity-Based Leadership

Equity-Based Leadership

Leveraging Complexity to Transform School Systems

Joshua P. Starr


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With a visionary approach to school improvement, Equity-Based Leadership proposes a framework to support system leaders seeking to organize change and achieve more equitable education.

In this ambitious yet pragmatic work, Joshua P. Starr makes the case that intentional and attentive district leadership can bring about continuous improvement in schools. When district reforms are conceived with social justice in mind, Starr explains, schools move toward fulfilling the longstanding promise of equitable education in America.

Starr asserts that the essential goal of good system leadership lies in designing, implementing, and sustaining comprehensive strategies for school reform, in collaboration with school leaders, educators, and community shareholders. Drawing on his own experiences and those of other distinguished superintendents, he offers core practices that system leaders can use to ensure that the mission of their district is upheld throughout any change process and that precious time and funding are used judiciously.

Recognizing that there is no single path to transformation, Starr sets forth a flexible, customizable agenda for district reform that concentrates on six elements, or entry points. Starr's first entry point is curriculum content, as teaching and learning are the fundamental goals of a school system. But he goes further to advocate for a deep dive into the organization and alignment of the system itself, via deliberate support of shared values; explicit and transparent decision-making; resource allocation in line with vision and need; talent management to achieve new levels of educator performance; and nourishment of school culture.

Additionally, Starr brings together a wide range of real-world examples, evidence-based practices, and sensible advice to guide district leaders in aligning their systems around a coherent equity strategy.

This bold new approach to transforming educational systems confidently guides the higher-level decision-making of leaders—not only superintendents but also school board members, cabinet members, and central office administrators—within the context of district-wide efforts to make education better for all students.


Joshua P. Starr:

Dr. Joshua P. Starr has been the chief executive officer of PDK International since July 2015. Since then, PDK has celebrated more than 50 years of the PDK Poll and 100 years of Kappan magazine. Under Dr. Starr, PDK launched Educators Rising across the nation, the first national CTE program that puts high school students on the path to becoming teachers. Educators Rising is addressing the national teacher shortage while diversifying the profession through its high school chapters, curriculum, microcredentials, and competitions. Fifty-two percent of Educators Rising participants identify as students of color. Dr. Starr has also overseen the establishment of Educators Rising Collegiate, increased foundation support for all of PDK’s programs, and renewed support for PDK members and other educators. He is the author of numerous essays, book chapters, and op-eds and writes a monthly column, “On Leadership,” for Kappan.

Prior to joining PDK, Dr. Starr was superintendent of schools in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland for nearly four years and previously superintendent of schools for Stamford, Connecticut, for six years. As a superintendent, Dr. Starr lead system-wide transformation efforts grounded in equity, excellence, and engagement. Dr. Starr began his career teaching Global Studies to high school special education students in Brooklyn, New York. He became a central office leader in school districts in the New York metropolitan area, including the New York City Department of Education.

Dr. Starr has a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College, and a master’s and doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Dr. Starr and his wife have three children who have gone through public schools.