Dr. Monifa McKnight to serve as next MCPS superintendent


Photo courtesy MCPS

Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight will serve as the next MCPS superintendent.

By Ethan Schenker and Zoe Cantor

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Monifa McKnight as MCPS’ next superintendent this morning. McKnight, the current interim superintendent, will become the first woman and the second person of color in the school district’s highest position when she takes office this July.

McKnight has served as the interim superintendent since this past July. She’s recently faced criticism over MCPS’ measures addressing COVID-19 upticks in schools, including the school district’s elimination of a benchmark they previously used to consider whether individual schools should enter virtual learning. In mid-January, over 94% of voting members of the Montgomery County Educational Association — MCPS’ teachers union — took a vote of “no confidence” in McKnight. 

“We are doing challenging work together,” McKnight said. “We will not always find that answer the first time, and I’ll be the first to admit that, but I am asking that those differences do not stand in the way of the stability that our school system needs right now.”

McKnight joined MCPS in 2001 as a teacher at Parkland Magnet Middle School, where she taught for five years and then served as an assistant principal for four years. She went on to spend one year as a principal intern at Takoma Park Middle School before becoming the principal of Ridgeview Middle School, where she worked for five years. In 2015, the National Association of Secondary School Principals named McKnight the Maryland Principal of the Year. 

McKnight served as MCPS’ director of secondary leadership development programs from 2016 until 2018. She then took a post in Howard County Public Schools as the school district’s Chief School Management and Instructional Leadership Officer. She returned to MCPS in 2019 as the Deputy Superintendent of Schools, a position she held until superintendent Jack Smith retired this past June.

“Dr. McKnight’s experience and vision makes her uniquely qualified to lead MCPS at this critical time and into the future,” said Board President Brenda Wolff. “We understand that trust is earned, and we believe in Dr. McKnight’s commitment to earning the community’s trust by listening to your input and making changes when needed to improve the experience of our students and staff.”

McKnight’s appointment marks the end of a months-long superintendent search that MCPS officials conducted mainly behind closed doors in the later phases. The educational consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) oversaw the selection process, which included public outreach, candidate recruitment and interviews between final contenders and Board members. 

Throughout October and November, the educational consulting firm conducted a survey, virtual town halls, interviews and focus groups to gather stakeholders’ input on the characteristics they wanted in the new superintendent. The firm found that community members wanted a “communicator who can build relationships and trust in a diverse community,” and someone who was “strong and confident enough to deal with conflict and make tough decisions.” One survey respondent from the MCEA — MCPS’ teachers union — expressed the desire for the next superintendent to be able to “turn around [sic] titanic.” 

“The district has faced a lot of challenges over the last couple of years,” said Board member Scott Joftus. “We wanted to find somebody who could help us address those challenges, [which] include improving engagement with the community, addressing lost learning time, mental health and the social emotional aspects that many students and staff are coming to school with.”

The Board conducted interviews with six candidates in January, narrowing down the applicant field to four finalists who then met with groups of stakeholders. The Board never released a shortlist of final candidates.

McKnight’s appointment is conditional upon approval from the State Superintendent and successful contract negotiations. The Maryland State Superintendent previously approved McKnight as the Board’s pick for interim superintendent. 

“Everyone is depending on us for stability for our students, stability for our staff, and stability for all of our community,” McKnight said. “Stability is the first step in bringing out the best in who we are.”


Dr. Scott Joftus is the father of opinion writer Eliana Joftus.


Additional reporting by Zach Poe.