MCPS Superintendent Search Begins after McKnight Resigns

The Carver Educational Services Center, which is the MCPS School District Office in Rockville, houses the Board of Education offices.

by Connor Pugh ‘24

On February 2, Dr. Monifa McKnight stepped down from her position as superintendent of MCPS, her resignation represented a culmination of nearly half a year of controversy and internal chaos as sexual harassment allegations against former Farquhar Middle School Principal Joel Beidleman were made public in August in an exposé by the Washington Post.

McKnight initially rejected calls for her resignation. On January 22, when the Board of Education reportedly asked McKnight to step down, McKnight responded publicly that, “The Board has never written, documented, or communicated any concern about my performance, and through the evaluation process has consistently affirmed that I have met expectations.” McKnight was posed to take legal action in the event that the Board would violate her contract, but ultimately she and the Board reached a “mutually accepted separation.” According to the Montgomery Perspective blog, McKnight will receive $1,183,250 in wages as part of her post-employment compensation.

Within days, Monique Felder was appointed as interim superintendent as MCPS began conducting its search for a permanent superintendent to put under contract. Felder stated her primary focus includes creating “stability within the district [and] ensure consistency for our staff, students, and families and pave the way for a seamless transition to the next superintendent.”
Felder has a long history of being an educator, starting out as a teacher before becoming principal of Watkins Mill Elementary School. Most recently in 2019 before becoming interim superintendent of MCPS, Felder was superintendent of Orange County Schools in central North Carolina. Felder’s current tenure as superintendent is set to run until June 30.

MCPS conducts its search for a new superintendent in three phases. The first phase involved collecting information and feedback from staff, students, and others to build a “leadership profile” that the county can then use to determine the best person for the job. This method of input collection includes a feedback form that stakeholders fill out to voice what they want to see in the next superintendent, conducting surveys to staffs and students, and hosting in-person town halls on April 2, 3, and 4 at Seneca Valley High School, Richard Montgomery High School, and Wheaton High School, respectively. The second phase involves MCPS conducting a national search to find suitable candidates to interview and narrow down the options of possible superintendents. The third and final phase will have the final candidates interviewed for a second time and determine the final suitable candidate for superintendent.

McKnight departing and leaving the superintendent spot undetermined is but the latest shakeup to come to MCPS after the Beidleman investigation. MCPS hired private law firm, Jackson Lewis, to investigate MCPS’s failured response to the accusations against Beidleman. Their heavily redacted report, released in October of last year, identified at least five MCPS officials who were at a minimum complacent in allowing Beidleman’s misconduct. All names in the report were redacted, but shortly after the publishing of the report, numerous higher ups at MCPS left unexpectedly or were placed on administrative leave. Such people included Deputy Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Associate Superintendent of School Support and Well-Being Donna Jones, Director in the Office of School Support and Well-Being Eugenia Dawson, and Associate Superintendent of Schools and Well-Being—as well as Beidleman’s former supervisor—Diane Morris.

On February 8, MCPS released a less redacted version of the report in which it was revealed McKnight was aware of the allegations towards Beidleman before the approval of his promotion last June to become principal at Paint Branch High School. MCPS Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull clarified in a Washington Post Article that two of the five employees have left MCPS, two are currently under investigation, and the final one has been disciplined but remains working in MCPS.

Some, however, argue that changes to staff are not enough. County Councilmember Dawn Luedtke, a vocal advocate for greater transparency and accountability within MCPS during the investigation, insisted in a statement regarding Mcknight’s departure that “[McKnight] leaving her position provides new leadership, but it does not provide answers. Without a detailed and public explanation of the school system’s failures in the matter of Joel Beidleman, MCPS and the Board of Education will have failed in their collective commitment to transparency and accountability.”