Former DeKalb County superintendent to lead APS-related nonprofit

Watson-Harris says new position is her ‘dream job’
Cheryl Watson-Harris will be the president of Achieve Atlanta, effective May 1. (Photo Courtesy of Achieve Atlanta.)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Cheryl Watson-Harris will be the president of Achieve Atlanta, effective May 1. (Photo Courtesy of Achieve Atlanta.)

Former DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris will soon lead a nonprofit that works to support and provide need-based college scholarships for students in Atlanta’s school system.

Watson-Harris will begin her role as president/executive director of Achieve Atlanta on May 1, replacing Tina Fernandez, who accepted a fellowship with Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative.

The DeKalb school board abruptly fired Watson-Harris about a year ago without a public explanation. The board voted Wednesday to hire Devon Horton as superintendent, its ninth leader since 2010.

“The only thing I would like to say about that is … I am very committed to the success of DeKalb County schools still,” she said about her time in DeKalb in an interview with The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution.

“I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish during my time there,” she added.

Through Achieve Atlanta, APS students headed to a four-year college or university can qualify for scholarships of $5,000 a year. Those going to two-year colleges or technical schools can earn $1,500 a year. The organization also issues grants of up to $1,000 for students who receive other scholarships and financial aid. Watson-Harris calls her new role a “dream job.”

“I’m excited to continue the success of the organization, but also to help the organization think about what’s next as we continue to think about growth and offering this very successful model to students even beyond APS,” she said.

Achieve Atlanta officials said that means the organization could share lessons it has learned about supporting students in the college-going process with other organizations. It does not have plans to expand scholarships outside of APS.

Watson-Harris said most Achieve Atlanta scholarship winners would not qualify for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, a merit-based program that pays tuition to state colleges and universities for students who meet certain performance standards. The organization expects to issue more than 700 scholarships this year.

Watson-Harris says the work of helping students access and complete college is in her blood. She helps her own children’s friends with their college applications and is a second-generation college student herself.

“I had to really navigate most of that experience on my own,” she said. “I always tap back into how that felt for me and wanting to make sure that students who come from a similar background that they have someone, that they have an organization like this that’s really helping them to navigate the experience.”

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring enthusiastically approved of the hiring.

“I’m excited about the naming of Dr. Watson-Harris to lead Achieve Atlanta’s work,” Herring said in a statement. “She deeply understands the importance of the investment in our children’s future and the critical work tied to preparing them for post-secondary education.”

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