This story was published at 11:06 a.m. on Nov. 20 and was updated at 1:50 p.m. on Nov. 20 to include comment from Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-Large).
In the wake of an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations of a former Montgomery County Public Schools principal, Superintendent Monifa McKnight has sought outside help with a new external affairs position. On Nov. 15 McKnight announced that she hired Nancy Navarro, a former school board member and president and county councilmember, for the role of senior adviser for external affairs.
“The Senior [Adviser] for External Affairs in the Office of the Superintendent is a new position aimed at advancing the priorities of the Board of Education and the school system’s key objectives,” McKnight said in a statement emailed to MoCo360. “I am glad to have Mrs. Navarro on board, who brings a wealth of experience, expertise and many years as an advocate for the children of Montgomery County both during her 13 years on County Council and her tenure on the Montgomery County Board of Education.”
Navarro served on the County Council from 2009 to 2022 and represented District 4, according to the Maryland State Archives. She served on the Montgomery County Board of Education from 2004 to 2009 and served as the president from 2006 to 2008, per state archives.
The Caracas, Venezuela native was appointed to the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in 2011 by President Barack Obama. In 2019, she was named to Washingtonian Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women” list.
According to McKnight, Navarro’s new role entails:
- Fostering positive relations with external partners
- “Our relationships with businesses and advocates are essential to providing valuable experiential opportunities for our students,” she said. “I have said since becoming superintendent that our partnerships bring deep value to our student’s experiences and providing these experiences is a clear element of our Pathways to Student Success in College, Career and Community.”
- Engaging with community stakeholders
- “Again, relationships are foundational to advancing the priorities of both the Board of Education and the school district. Elected officials and community advocates are key in ensuring we have the resources that allow our educators to ensure excellence in teaching and learning,” she continued.
- Supporting MCPS’ Community of Practice
- The workgroup “has been implemented to recommend essential corrective actions across the system in response to the recent sexual harassment report findings. Nancy will ensure the right people are at the table and that their work will identify necessary actions for the district,” McKnight said.
MCPS’ Community of Practice is part of the corrective action plan that McKnight was tasked by the board of education to develop in response to the school district’s mishandling of the sexual assault investigation of former principal, Joel Beidleman.
In a corrective action plan update from October, the community of practice is defined as “[panel] of experts who will come together to recommend specific actions MCPS must take … to form a comprehensive corrective action plan.”
The Montgomery County Inspector General is investigating Beidleman’s alleged misconduct and if the school system has “effective procedures for the receipt, assignment, investigation, referral, resolution, documentation and retention of allegations by its employees.”
Montgomery County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-Large) said on Monday that MCPS is in “crisis” right now and could use the help of Navarro at this time.
“Nancy has led on so many different issues that crossover with our school system, and I think it’s safe to say the school system could use help in any way that it can right now given the challenges that the school system faces,” he said. “And, it will be much more than just another capable set of hands. She is has been a visionary leader and has been able to move forward some very complicated policy, and I think will be an asset to the school system.”
Janis Sartucci a member of the Montgomery County Parents Coalition, an advocacy and MCPS watchdog group, said that the hiring was “shocking” and brings into question the priorities of the school system.
Members of the MCCPTA did not immediately respond to MoCo360’s request for comment.
“We’ve seen other superintendents … that would bring in consultants, advisers, mentors and to be honest, we always have the same question: Why are those positions more important than classroom teachers? Is that what it means to fund an education system?” Sartucci said.
She continued that some teachers don’t have enough resources to buy classroom supplies.
“I think a lot of the public, the voters might think when they fund education, they’re funding classrooms and teachers and school buildings. Yet the reality we see is we’re funding administrators, consultants, mentors. And I think that’s where we need transparency.”
At this time, it is unclear how much Navarro will be paid in this new position. An MCPS spokesperson did not answer questions about Navarro’s compensation or her start date.
Sartucci added that another concern was that it appeared to her that McKnight hired Navarro without bringing the hire to the Board of Education. MoCo360 inquired about this concern with an MCPS spokesperson, but they did not immediately respond on Wednesday evening and Monday morning by email.
“We prefer to see as much transparency as possible so the public can be involved and make their own decisions on what is in the best interest of the school system and what the voters of Montgomery County want,” she added.
A blog post on the Parents’ Coalition’s website has also compiled a list of past issues the group has documented while Navarro was a school board member and County Council member. Some issues include not allowing a student to enroll at MCPS, violations of Open Meetings Act and closing special education programs.
MoCo360 was unable to reach members of the school board by phone and left a message with the board’s office secretary. When reached for comment, Navarro directed questions to MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram.
Cram did not answer questions about Navarro’s employment on Monday and on Wednesday evening.
McKnight said that she has confidence in the new senior adviser’s “insights and strategic vision.”
“Her presence is not just an addition but a catalyst for positive change within MCPS,” she said. “As we look to the future, we anticipate that Navarro’s assistance will prove invaluable in driving the continued success and advancement of our school system.”
If MoCo360 keeps you informed, connected and inspired, circle up and join our community by becoming a member today. Your membership supports our community journalism and unlocks special benefits.