Dr. Monique Felder appointed MCPS Interim Superintendent

Felder, a long-time MCPS administrator and former superintendent in North Carolina with 30 years of experience, attempts to bring stability at a tumultuous time for the district
Dr. Monique Felder was appointed MCPS interim Superintendent of Schools Tuesday. Felder and MCPS face questions regarding her history and the hiring process.
Dr. Monique Felder was appointed MCPS interim Superintendent of Schools Tuesday. Felder and MCPS face questions regarding her history and the hiring process.
Courtesy MCPS

The MCPS Board of Education approved Tuesday, Feb. 6, its pick for Interim Superintendent, Dr. Monique Felder. The Board voted unanimously to approve Felder during its business meeting Tuesday. Felder will serve in the position until at least June 30, succeeding former superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight. Although Felder started and spent most of her career in MCPS, she left the district in 2014, moving to other school districts since. Felder was most recently the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in North Carolina, where she left the job in August 2023.

Felder’s appointment does not come without controversy, as many have pointed out her spotty track record and the suspiciously quick timing of her hiring. Felder was implicated in numerous scandals in her previous positions in Tennessee and North Carolina, causing MCPS’ sudden hiring of Felder to raise concerns over how ethically and properly the candidate selection and vetting process was conducted.

Following the resignation of McKnight Friday and with concerns remaining about former Farquhar Middle School Principal Joel Beidleman, Felder takes the reins at an uncertain time for MCPS. Despite this, the Board of Education expressed confidence for the future with Felder.

“The Board is confident that Dr. Felder is a trustworthy, upstanding and highly respected educational leader who will be able to competently guide MCPS through this transition,” the Board said in a message introducing Felder to the community.

Felder in a message to the community described her return to the district as a “homecoming,” emphasizing her continued commitment to students. 

Felder enters with mixed track record

Felder started her career in education in 1991 as a teacher in MCPS, teaching at Poolesville and Cedar Grove Elementary Schools and quickly became an administrator, serving as an Assistant Principal at Beall Elementary School in Rockville until 1999. In January 1999, Felder was appointed Principal of Watkins Mill Elementary School, where she served until 2006. In 2007, she moved to MCPS central offices, where she was Director of the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction and later Director of Interventions, before moving to Prince George’s County Public Schools in 2014.

During Felder’s time in PGCPS, she worked under Dr. Shawn Joseph, who was then Deputy Superintendent. In May 2016, when Joseph was appointed the Director of Schools for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee, he brought Felder with him to serve as Chief Academic Officer for MNPS, where the two worked to raise achievement for historically marginalized students. Felder’s time in Nashville saw students outpace the state in literacy, score higher SAT scores, receive fewer suspensions and graduate at higher rates, according to a bio released by MCPS.

However, Felder’s time in Nashville was not completely without controversy as a February 2019 investigation revealed that she had failed to report a $4,000 consulting fee she received from the Education Research and Development Institute. Felder fixed the report when auditors started to look into her and stated it was an inadvertent mistake made by confusing “school year” and “calendar year” on the reporting form.

the Board wants to make it clear that they are aware of a prior investigation into [Felder] … The Board has reviewed the findings and is confident that the findings were unsubstantiated as the report concluded.

— MCPS Board of Education

Acknowledging this incident, the MCPS Board stated that it “reviewed the findings and is confident that the findings were unsubstantiated.”

In November 2019, Felder left Nashville for the superintendent position at Orange County Public Schools in North Carolina. Orange County has just over 7,000 students, compared to the over 160,000 students in MCPS. Felder led the district through COVID-19 and throughout her tenure, she focused on equity, which was one of the main reasons the Board cited for hiring her in 2019.

As Superintendent, Felder accomplished growth in numerous areas, including a 50% increase in AP and IB enrollments for students of color and a graduation rate increase from 84.2% to 90.8%.

Felder had originally been contracted to be Superintendent through 2025. However, a more moderate Board of Education elected in May 2022 denied Felder another contract extension, leading to Felder’s resignation. Felder’s last day in Orange County was Aug. 2, 2023.

“There came a point in time … where there was a shift in Board composition and the alignment of our work was misaligned … It happens, and so to not cause a distraction, it was best that we separate,” Felder said.

Since then, Felder has consulted for the Results Educational Consulting Group and worked with The Innovation Project, a North Carolina non-profit centered around school district leaders where she coaches principals and assistant principals.

Hiring method raises questions

The hiring of Felder, a relative outsider to MCPS, has raised eyebrows among many. In the past, standard practice for interim superintendents was to internally elevate someone from MCPS. Such was the case with McKnight in 2021, when she was promoted from Deputy Superintendent to Interim Superintendent following the retirement of former Superintendent Jack Smith. This also happened in 2015, when Larry Bowers was promoted from Chief Operating Officer to Interim Superintendent following the resignation of former Superintendent Joshua Starr.

MCPS’ four-day acting superintendent and current Chief Operating Officer Brian Hull could have been selected to be interim superintendent. However, questions still surround Hull and other top MCPS officials’ knowledge of and complacency in the Beidleman incident, possibly motivating the Board to select an outsider for the position.

But MCPS tapping an outsider has caused many to question the process and the timing of the hiring. It appears that MCPS did not contact a search firm for the interim superintendent position, meaning that Felder may have been the only candidate in the running. Typical standard practice for hiring a superintendent involves a national search using a search firm, although an outsider being tapped as interim superintendent is unprecedented. Board President Karla Silvestre stated that the Board “considered a number of people to serve,” during a press conference Tuesday.

Others have voiced concerns that Felder’s hiring could have been the subject of cronyism or other “friend of a friend” type connections within MCPS. Felder did not directly ever work for, under or with McKnight.

Brian Hull was appointed Chief Operating Officer in 2022 and temporarily served as Acting Superintendent after McKnight’s resignation. Hull worked at Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools at the same time as Felder from 2016 to 2019, although the two were not directly working together. (Courtesy MCPSTV)

However, Felder worked at Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools with acting superintendent Hull between 2016 and 2019, when Hull was serving as the Director of Resource Strategy at MNPS, although the two were not in the same department.

The timing of MCPS’ announcement also raises questions. Given the four-day window between resignation and appointment and rumors of Felder’s appointment spreading as early as Friday, it is almost certain that the Board started considering Felder before McKnight resigned. How long the Board considered or discussed Felder before McKnight’s resignation is not known. Normally, the process for finding, properly vetting and approving a superintendent can take several months.

“We have known about [Felder] and communicated with her over the last few weeks,” Silvestre said. When pressed for a precise date for when contacting Felder, Silvestre claimed the Board did not remember an exact date.

Felder, MCPS prepare for future together

With Felder at the helm, MCPS faces numerous upcoming challenges. The Fiscal Year 2025 budget process has tentative Board adoption of the budget scheduled during its business meeting on Feb. 22. Later this week on Feb. 8, top MCPS officials are scheduled to testify in front of the County Council regarding the Inspector General report into MCPS’ process for handling misconduct complaints. It is not clear if Felder is required to or will attend.

Felder’s contract has also not yet been revealed, meaning her compensation and benefits like compensation for moving expenses are unknown. However, when McKnight took over as interim superintendent in 2021, she received a salary of $295,000.

Felder sits next to Board president Karla Silvestre during the Board’s meeting on Tuesday. Felder stood up from her place in the audience and joined the Board table following her appointment as interim superintendent. (Courtesy MCPSNews)

With regards to a permanent superintendent, in the short term, MCPS will soon announce a Request for Proposal (RFP) for firms to bid on the superintendent search process. Felder will serve in the interim position until a permanent superintendent is appointed, which could be as soon as this June or could take many months.

Although the specifics of Felder’s contract are not known, when McKnight was appointed interim superitnendent, a specific part of the contract was stating she was not prohibited from being a candidate for permanent superintendent. Whether or not Felder becomes the next superintendent, community leaders continue to call for transparency from MCPS. 

“We have to have someone who has clear communication in all aspects … without it we are putting ourselves at risk for more things like this to happen in the future,” (referring to Beidleman) Clarksburg High School junior Praneel Suvarna said. Suvarna is Clarksburg’s junior class president, the Montgomery County Regional SGA vice president and a current candidate for Student Member of the Board. 

Other community members emphasized the need to move forward past Beidleman and McKnight. 

“The Board of Education has made their decision. The most important thing Montgomery County residents want now is for MCPS to move forward … We need to turn the page on this chapter and have hope that if we all work together, we can finally shift the culture of MCPS and unlock its potential,” Laura Stewart said. Stewart is a parent advocate and a District 4 candidate for Board of Education.

This story has been edited from an earlier version to correct statements about Dr. Shawn Joseph. The article earlier stated that Joseph was fired from his position. Joseph reached an exit agreement with the Nashville Board. 

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Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
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    Jeanette DixonFeb 7, 2024 at 5:25 pm

    The Pitch is still the outstanding school newspaper it was when I was AP at WJ. I would be interested to know who in Nashville signed off that allegations were unsubstantiated.
    Board always uses HYA to help them recruit superintendents. Shawn Joseph and Henry Johnson work for them. That’s where they probably got her name.

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  • M

    Mimi 2.0Feb 6, 2024 at 7:44 pm

    Wow. Beautifully written. WJ proud.

    Reply