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'This is a person-to-person profession' | Dr. Monifa McKnight named new Montgomery Co. Public Schools Superintendent

"The first is rebuilding trust within our community," Dr. McKnight said in reference to her top priorities.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Monifa McKnight Tuesday morning. 

WUSA9 Megan Rivers sat down is Dr. McKnight to discuss what her focus is now that she is no longer the interim superintendent.

McKnight said the first thing she plans on working on is rebuilding trust within the community after the impact of COVID-19 and the stress and instability.

"It's caused our community in so many ways to be very focused in a very individual way," explained McKnight. "Everything about a school system is that you have to think about your neighbor." 

She says COVID-19 continues to be a point of concern for students, teachers and staff, and parents. 

“There was learning disruption that occurred that has to be remedied in many ways," McKnight said. "We've seen that conflicting with them [students] being ready to learn because there are other needs that need to be met first."

Masks have become a big topic of discussion across the state. On Tuesday, Governor Hogan said he plans to lean on state school authorities to relax mask guidelines. 

RELATED: Gov. Hogan plans to lean on state school authorities to relax mask guidelines

McKnight says there is a lot of discussions to be had with local health officials and county leaders. 

Reporter: Do you see a possibility where masks will not be worn in Montgomery County Public Schools?

"As we know, every jurisdiction in the state of Maryland is different and we want to be able to take into consideration where we are as a community and how that fits into the next steps for our school system,” explained McKnight.

As a former teacher herself, McKnight says classes were able to engage in virtual learning because it had to be done. She believes the impact of that time period is being felt now. 

"I think it's important for us to remember why we came into this work that does really depend on that teacher-to-student relationship,"  she said. "That teacher-to-teacher relationship, that helps teacher "A" become better because of the collaboration they do with teacher "B." And that really does require being together. This is a person-to-person profession."

This is the first academic school year where SROs were not in Montgomery County High Schools. Earlier this year, a student was shot at Magruder High School. 

McKnight said there were benefits to the SRO program but also drawbacks, as is the case with any program in the school system. She said recently the Board of Education was presented with a plan with some adjustments. Some of the changes make it so Community Engagement Officers, otherwise known as CEOs, have the opportunity to connect more frequently with principals.

"Another big component of the change in the program is being intentional about how those CEOs are building relationships into that and establishment of programs with our students in a very proactive manner, like the DARE program," explained McKnight. "And starting with our students and not just interacting with them to manage environments in the secondary schools, but establishing that relationship with elementary, middle, and high. We found success in the school system in having that interaction, that involvement through those programs."

Even with the changes, McKnight says the school system cannot solve all the problems alone. It has to be a collective conversation.

"What are we going to do as a community to address ghost guns not being available to our students? What are we doing to strike the balance with families who do decide to have a weapon in their home?" questioned McKnight. "There, just given those examples, you see the responsibility of legislators and how they have to make sure that's put into writing. What is the responsibility of our parents? What's the responsibility of community leaders to say, what do we need to do to solve this problem? To keep our children safe? And we all do that together, we're ultimately going to have safer schools because everyone's owning the problem."

RELATED: Dr. Monifa McKnight officially appointed as MCPS superintendent

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