Being superintendent was never on Dr. Monifa Mcknight’s list of professional goals, but on Tuesday, she fought back tears as she welcomed the unanimous decision and standing ovation, grateful for the opportunity to continue serving Montgomery County Public Schools and make history as the first woman and first Black woman to lead the school system.
But since she’s served as interim superintendent since June of last year, McKnight does not start with a clean slate.
When asked if that helps or hurts her moving forward, she said “it helps that people know me. It doesn’t help that we’re all still managing something that is very new to us.”
It was only last month that the teachers union took a vote of no confidence in McKnight’s leadership. Students have walked out in protest over the district’s COVID-19 policies, and parents were left frustrated by a lack of communication as the omicron variant surged, forcing dozens of schools to go virtual and resulting in an apology from McKnight.
“For those who question me and my ability to be able to address these pieces, I guess I would say, ‘What do we have to compare to this?’ There’s been no one who has had to do this before,” she said.
McKnight added that rebuilding trust within the MCPS community is paramount.
“The things that I always want to model is: every decision that I make is going to be centered around what is best for our children,” she said.
As she steps into the role permanently, McKnight said parents can expect a continued commitment to maintaining in-person learning.
Not only does that mean mitigating the spread of COVID-19, but also addressing operational issues brought on by staff shortages. It’s not an easy fix, but McKnight sees it as an opportunity.
“What do we do to attract and maintain the staff that we want to have here? We ask that question, and we put in place the things that they say are important to them,” she said.
What’s most important to her, and everyone in the school system, is the safety and mental wellbeing of students, teachers and staff.
While the shooting at Magruder High School has rekindled the debate over police officers in schools, McKnight reiterated that one single agency cannot solve the problem.
“This is a larger conversation that we need to have within our community and be very clear about what we are going to accept and what we’re not going to accept,” she said.
McKnight knows the road ahead will be filled with challenges, those that she can and cannot control. But just as she did two decades ago when she stepped into class for the first time as teacher, she’s ready to put everything she’s got into the job.
“Even though it’s challenging to be able to provide the blood sweat and tears that commit to making this community better, that’s why I’m here,” the new superintendent affirmed.