2022 | Schools

Community members call for equity, accountability at MCPS in session with superintendent

Monifa McKnight says engagement will be ‘core value’ of superintendency

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MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight talks to people during a meeting on Wednesday at Gaithersburg High School.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County Public Schools needs to refocus on equity and teaching to ensure students receive a top-tier education, especially emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, community members said Wednesday night.

About 300 people attended the meeting at Gaithersburg High, billed as the “first step” in “rebuilding trust” after a challenging and sometimes tumultuous two years dealing with the pandemic, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said.

“Tonight represents a listening session that I’ve put at a core value of what I’m going to do as a superintendent, which is to engage … and re-establishing trust through strong communication,” said McKnight, who will become the district’s permanent superintendent in July. She has overseen the district since March 2021.

In her time at the helm, MCPS has been criticized for a lack of communication about important policy changes and problems within the district. In January, McKnight apologized in a letter to the community for not more clearly communicating changes to how it made decisions about when schools might need to temporarily shift to virtual classes due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Parents, students and staff members from across the county gathered in the school’s cafeteria and broke into small groups to discuss the district’s strengths; challenges and areas for improvement; and issues that, if dealt with, “would go the furthest in helping our students receive a world-class education,” McKnight said

The groups then shared some of the topics they discussed with the whole gr oup.

Many said the district’s diversity is a strength, and there is an abundance of groups and associations students can join to meet others with similar backgrounds, interests and experiences.

Others said MCPS struggles to follow through on its many initiatives and pilot programs, with little accountability.

Many groups talked about the need for more equity in classes and resources available at schools across the county.

Administering district and state tests take too much time away from teaching lessons, attendees said. It’s also important to support teachers so they feel prepared and able to teach their students, people said.

McKnight said she would use the feedback she heard during Wednesday’s meeting while making decisions and plans for MCPS. Along with the two similar community meetings scheduled — April 27 at Walter Johnson High and May 7 at Paint Branch High — McKnight said she plans to find other opportunities to meet with community members. That could include more meetings, virtual forums and polls.

“We’re going to do everything we can to engage the voices of everyone to figure out what it is in building trust and communication that we need,” McKnight said. “… This is going to be how we live out our dream, in keeping the conversation going and coming back and checking on how these things are going … that we’ve established as a result of thoughts and ideas you’ve shared tonight.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com