DeKalb County school board announces sole superintendent finalist

Devon Horton is the sole finalist to become the next superintendent of DeKalb County's school system. (Photo Credit: DeKalb County School District.)

Credit: DeKalb County School District

Credit: DeKalb County School District

Devon Horton is the sole finalist to become the next superintendent of DeKalb County's school system. (Photo Credit: DeKalb County School District.)

The DeKalb County Board of Education announced Tuesday that its sole finalist for the superintendent position is Devon Horton, who currently leads a small school district in Illinois.

The school board picked Horton after a seven-month search. Community leaders have been urging the board to choose a superintendent who could bring stability to the state’s third-largest district. If hired, Horton would be the eighth time the district has changed superintendents since 2010.

“Dr. Horton has an impressive track record of leading districts with diverse student populations and implementing initiatives that promote academic success,” said DeKalb school board chair Diijon DaCosta in a news release. “We are confident he will lead our district of 14,000 employees with integrity and excellence and be committed to achieving positive academic outcomes for our 92,000 scholars.”

Horton is currently superintendent of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, just north of Chicago. The district has roughly 6,500 students. The district only serves pre-K through eighth grade students. Prior to being hired in that role in 2020, Horton was chief of staff for two years of Jefferson County Public Schools. The Kentucky district had roughly 101,000 students.

Horton is “a disruptive leader with an unwavering belief in the potential of success for all children,” according to his bio. His work and research focuses on creating equity for students and he is seen as an anti-racist leader across the nation, according to the bio.

Horton’s efforts to give historically marginalized students first priority for in-person learning in the early months after the pandemic was criticized by some national conservative groups.

In 2022, he was named Superintendent of the Year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE).

Horton said he is “deeply honored” to be selected as the board’s sole finalist.

“I firmly believe that DeKalb will be the best place in America to learn, teach, and lead. If entrusted with the superintendency, I will embrace that goal enthusiastically,” he said in a news release. “DeKalb is a place that inspires me, and the conversations that have led to this moment have only increased my excitement.”

The district will host three town hall meetings with Horton to engage with district employees, students and community members. Each meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on April 12, 13 and 14. State law requires school boards to make superintendent finalists public for at least two weeks before the board votes on the decision. According to the timeline posted to the district’s website, the board will appoint a superintendent in May.

The DeKalb school board began searching for a new superintendent after firing Cheryl Watson-Harris in a split vote in April 2022. She was on the job for less than two years.

Watson-Harris was hired in 2020, after the board announced Rudy Crew as finalist for the role before later voting against his hire. In 2021, the board agreed to pay a $750,000 settlement to Crew, who alleged in a lawsuit that he was discriminated against because of his age and race.

The district agreed to pay the Georgia School Boards Association $20,000 to facilitate this search. The board received 26 applications for the position. Like most Georgia school districts, the search largely happened behind closed doors.

If the board approves Horton’s hire, he will succeed interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley. She came out of retirement to lead the district in April 2022.

Vasanne Tinsley has served as interim superintendent of the DeKalb County School District as the school board has searched for a permanent leader. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

icon to expand image

Credit: Jenni Girtman

In her time as interim superintendent, the board has spoken positively of Tinsley’s progress. Board member Joyce Morley, in particular, has maintained that the board didn’t need to conduct a search for other candidates. Morley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday she hasn’t been impressed with any other candidates.

“Dr. Tinsley has done a fantastic job — a spectacular job,” Morley said. “Our children only have one time around as children, and once they get past that they don’t have a chance to go back. Either we do the right thing now, or we’re going to keep paying dearly, as we have.”

DaCosta’s statement included similar praise for Tinsley.

Tinsley will stay with the district until June 30 to help with the transition, according to the release. Horton’s start date will be negotiated when he’s hired.