Montgomery Co. interim schools chief appointed but questions linger following superintendent shake-up

Monique Felder speaks following her appointment as interim superintendent for Montgomery County schools. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously appointed an interim superintendent to replace Monifa McKnight, who parted ways with Maryland’s largest school system Friday following scrutiny into the school system’s handling of bullying and harassment allegations.

The board appointed Monique Felder to the post Tuesday “to support the district during this period of transition as the board conducts a national search to identify a permanent superintendent,” said board President Karla Silvestre before introducing the vote.

Felder’s term starts immediately and lasts through June 30.

Abrupt exit in North Carolina and Nashville audit

Most recently, Felder served as the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in North Carolina, where she was nominated as regional superintendent of the year. She told WTOP’s Kate Ryan after the vote that there were two years left on her contract with the school system before she was recently tapped for the interim position.

Felder said there was a shift in board composition after which “the alignment of our work was misaligned.”

“It happens. And so as to not cause a distraction, it was best that we separate,” Felder said of her exit from the North Carolina school system.

She’s also served as chief academic officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee and addressed a question surrounding financial disclosure while she was in that post.

“What I can tell you is that there was an error, in that I completed a form prospectively versus retrospectively. There was an audit, and that audit came back, knowing that, and simply suggesting that I amend my disclosure form,” Felder said.

Past experience in Montgomery, Prince George’s counties

Felder has more than 32 years of experience in public education, working as an executive director for Prince George’s County Public Schools and also as a teacher for Montgomery County. She also served as the director of accelerated and enriched instruction and director of the Interventions Network for MCPS, according to a news release.

Public comment followed the vote and some people spoke about Felder’s appointment, including Suzie Djidjoli from the Montgomery County Education Association.

“Your top priority must be to establish a culture and climate where staff are free from fear of exploitation, harassment and bullying and instead cultivate an environment where we feel valued and respected as the dedicated professionals that we are,” Djidjoli said.

Barry Moultrie, pastor at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville, called for transparency into McKnight’s departure and the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against former middle school principal Joel Beidleman.

“We need to know specifically why this Beidleman case was so pivotal to this board,” Moultrie said.

An inspector general investigation released last month found shortcomings in how the school system handles complaints of employee wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the results of a previous investigation substantiated accusations that Beidleman engaged in sexual harassment while serving as the principal of Farquhar Middle School.

Beidleman was then promoted to run Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville in June 2023. He was placed on leave by Montgomery County Public Schools in August, after The Washington Post unearthed a slew of complaints against him that had been submitted to the school district over the past seven years.

Beidleman was placed on leave when the allegations came to light and is no longer employed by the school system, last receiving a salary in December.

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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