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Monifa McKnight to join University of Maryland faculty in August

Monifa McKnight to join University of Maryland faculty in August

Former Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight will move to the University of Maryland in August to serve as Superintendent in Residence and Dean’s Fellow in the College of Education.

The position is new for the college. McKnight will advise staff in the College of Education and focus on key issues affecting public education, including faculty recruitment and retention. She plans to support and expand the college’s partnerships, including with legislators, other parts of the university, and public and private schools.

“I think one of the best-kept secrets about education is that it is a wonderful profession that can be so rewarding in so many different areas,” she says. he said in an interview last week. “And it’s our job to really convey that and help our students recognize that.”

In 2022, McKnight, a longtime educator, was appointed the first woman to serve as superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district with 160,000 students.

As superintendent, she led efforts to conduct an “anti-racism audit” that reviewed the school system’s policies and curricula and oversaw the reopening of in-person classes after districts switched to virtual learning due to the pandemic. But McKnight stepped in about two years into a four-year contract amid questions about how the district handled allegations of sexual harassment and bullying, as well as other allegations against a former principal.

Kimberly Griffin, dean of the College of Education, said McKnight’s experience as a teacher and principal makes her well suited for the newly created role.

“Her knowledge will be especially important as we develop new ideas to expand the faculty and better prepare them to meet the needs of today’s students and communities,” Griffin said in an email. “She knows education, and more importantly, she knows education in Maryland.”

McKnight had twenty years of experience in Montgomery County schools and was named Maryland School Superintendent of the Year in 2015. She briefly left the school system to join Howard County Public Schools, but returned to Montgomery County in 2019 to serve as an assistant under Superintendent of Schools Jack R. Smith.

Three years later, she was elected to lead the district. As part of her severance agreement with the district, she received $1.3 million. As part of the agreement, the board and McKnight are prohibited from making derogatory comments about each other.

She said the post in Montgomery – and the historic nature of her appointment – has given her a unique perspective that she wants to share with others.

“I’ve been able to support others who may be making history,” she said. “Any time something new and different changes, it brings a lot with it. It hasn’t changed who I am – I still rely on my foundation of faith, family and education. I’m just grateful that those can continue to be my priorities.”

When asked what she had learned during her time as superintendent, particularly after a law firm report that documented failures by school leadership, she pointed to the school system’s corrective action plan. “The plan to implement what we learned was very strong, and I hope the system continues to do that.”

Since leaving her role as principal, she has focused on spending time with her son, who attends a middle school in Montgomery County. She said the time she has spent with him has been “just incredible.”

But several colleagues in her professional network also reached out to her – both formally and informally – seeking her expertise. She thought about what her next step should be and how this role could intersect with “helping others on a larger scale.” That led her to take the job at the University of Maryland. She said her previous experiences in Montgomery and Howard districts gave her “kinds of vignettes … that we can use in the university space” to highlight what needs to change in the education world and what’s working.

She graduated from the University of Maryland about ten years ago with a doctorate in educational policy and leadership. She also holds a bachelor’s degree from South Carolina State University and a master’s degree from Bowie State University.

McKnight said her new role is temporary with the possibility of extension.

“I’m just really, really proud to return to my alma mater and serve in this position,” she said.