DeKalb County Board of Education votes to hire superintendent

Cheryl Watson-Harris is expected to become the next DeKalb County School District superintendent on July 1. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

Cheryl Watson-Harris is expected to become the next DeKalb County School District superintendent on July 1. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

The DeKalb County Board of Education voted Thursday to hire Cheryl Watson-Harris as its next superintendent to lead the school district.

The vote was 6-1, with board member Joyce Morley the lone vote against the measure.

Watson-Harris, currently the first deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education, would start on July 1. Current Superintendent Ramona Tyson, who has overseen the district since November, is set to retire on June 30.

The board announced that Watson-Harris was its finalist on June 4.

Watson-Harris’ “experience as both an innovator at the New York City Department of Education and a passionate champion for children is precisely what we need to continue positioning our students for success,” school board chairman Marshall Orson said in a public announcement after the vote.

Morley was the only board member to make remarks during the public portion of the meeting. She said she was concerned the board was selecting a superintendent without similar credentials of other school district leaders in metro Atlanta. Watson-Harris has never led a school district and is expected to receive her doctorate in 2021.

“There’s no way in the world anyone on this board would be looking for a nanny and select one who’s never gone to nanny school,” she said. “Something is wrong with that picture. We have to look at the message we’re sending to people. It’s not fair.”

Watson-Harris was the second finalist named by the school board. Rudy Crew, president of New York’s Medgar Evers College, was announced on April 23 as the heir-apparent for the district’s top job. That day, during a school board meeting held online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of board members praised Crew’s leadership history and record of innovative strategies tackling equity and student achievement.

On May 11, days after the school board abruptly ended a meeting where they were expected to vote on Crew’s contract, members voted 4-3 not to hire the veteran educator.

Under the terms of her contract, received by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a Georgia Open Records Act request, Watson-Harris is expected to sign a three-year deal where she will make $325,000 annually. Under the contract, she also will receive $1,500 in monthly expenses that do not require receipts, a company car or a $600-a-month car allowance, and an $12,000 annual supplemental retirement contribution, among other perks.

She inherits a district still reeling from allegations of financial mismanagement and recently lost its credit rating from Moody's Investors Service after falling behind on its financial audits. The district has struggled in recent years to keep key leadership positions open. Currently, the district is without a full-time chief financial officer, chief operations officer, chief legal officer or chief human resources officer. Chief Information Officer Derrick Brown has said he would leave the district at the end of this month.

Watson-Harris also becomes the district’s sixth superintendent in 10 years. Former Superintendent Steve Green announced in 2019 that he would leave the district at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. School board members had declined to extend Green’s contract beyond 2020. Instead, he and the board agreed to part ways in November.