At a Special Meeting of the Orange County Board of Education Wednesday night at the Cedar Ridge High School Media Center, the Orange County Schools announced its new superintendent.
With Hillsborough mayor Tom Stevens and mayor pro tempore Jenn Weaver in attendance, the BOE passed a unanimous vote to approve Dr. Monique Felder as the new superintendent. Felder was supported at the meeting by friends and family, some of whom had traveled from cities as far away as Nashville, Orlando and Atlanta. Among those there in support of Felder were her sister and her mother, who grew emotional as Board member Dr. Stephen Halkiotis asked her to stand and be recognized by those in attendance.
Before Felder was sworn in, each Board member shared words of encouragement for their new superintendent. Brenda Stephens said she was “over the moon that you chose us,” and Hillary MacKenzie said “to impress all seven of us and unanimously knock our socks off, is quite a feat and speaks to how incredibly brilliant and impressive and amazing you are…”
Meanwhile, Board chair Will Atherton said he felt that Felder was the right person to both bring the community together and help students succeed.
“Dr. Felder, as you know, as we’ve gone through this process, our Board has had lots of challenges and I believe you are the right person to bring us together and lead all the kids to success,” Atherton said. “We are so excited to have you here.”
Felder has worked in public education for more than 25 years in both Maryland and Tennessee. She comes to Orange County from the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, where she served as Chief Academic Officer for 86,000 students. Before then, she was executive director to the deputy superintendent for the Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from York College in Jamaica, New York, Felder received a master’s degree in elementary education from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Tech.
Some of her accolades in the field of education include receiving the International Reading Association’s Exemplary Reading Program Award for the State of Maryland while serving as a principal, as well as being named a finalist for the Washington Post’s Outstanding Leadership Award.
Needless to say, with Felder’s impressive resume, she could have picked from a number of the more than 14,000 school districts in the nation to continue her career as a superintendent.
But she was drawn to working in Orange County.
“When I decided that it was time for me to seek a superintendency, I was very particular about which ones [school districts] I applied to,” Felder said. “I was looking for districts that were serious about equity work, not just talking about it, but putting some teeth to what they’re saying, and I found that here. The fact that this district has an equity policy, that it has a board that’s united about equity work. That their definition of equity is all, meaning all students, ensuring that every student has what they need.”
The OCS district has recently concentrated more efforts on creating a culture of equity. On July 1, Dr. Dena Keeling officially began her tenure as the first chief equity officer for the OCS district. In August, new executive director of curriculum Chris Gammon, who will serve as a member of the superintendent’s cabinet, told the News of Orange County that he wanted to help build equity in the community.
Felder replaces Dr. Todd Wirt, who resigned as OCS superintendent at a BOE work session meeting on April 22. Wirt, whose contract ran until June 2022, was hired by the BOE in 2015 after serving as assistant superintendent for the Wake County Public School System for three years. Wirt replaced Gerri Martin, who resigned in May 2014 after less than eight months on the job.
After Wirt resigned, Dr. Randy Bridges was appointed interim superintendent, effective July 1. Bridges previously had served as superintendent of Orange County Schools from 1997-2002.
Although Felder doesn’t officially begin in her new role until Nov. 1, she is already hard at work to learn as much as she can about her new school system so that she can hit the ground running on her first day.
“I believe that everyone has a voice,” Felder said. We don’t have to agree, but you deserve to be heard, you have a perspective that’s uniquely yours and you deserve to be at the table and to be heard. And so I am on a learning curve in terms of learning as much as I can about the district, getting to know people, build relationships, that’s important, and look at what’s working well that we need to keep doing and where there are areas that we need to focus on and make improvements and then working as a community to make those improvements.”