DeKalb Schools leader’s swearing-in includes masks, social distancing

Cheryl Watson-Harris was installed as the DeKalb County School District superintendent Wednesday morning. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

Cheryl Watson-Harris was installed as the DeKalb County School District superintendent Wednesday morning. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

With Cheryl Watson-Harris’ official installation as the DeKalb County School District’s superintendent came many firsts.

It was the first time the district livestreamed the ceremony, which was moved to the district’s Stone Mountain headquarters from the DeKalb County Superior Courthouse in Decatur due to social distancing and other gathering limitations in response to the coronavirus.

It also was the first time she met any of her new bosses in person.

Despite it all, said DeKalb County Board of Education chairman Marshall Orson, Wednesday’s ceremony should be seen for what it is.

“Today is a day of celebration,” he said, adding Watson-Harris’ “priorities as an educator reflect what we want and need for our children.”

Several dozen people attended the ceremony in person. Most were district staff members and Watson-Harris’ family and friends. Besides Orson, board vice chairwoman Vickie B. Turner and board member Diijon DaCosta attended.

Attendees wore masks unless speaking at the lectern. Seating was spaced for social distancing. Elbow rubs replaced hugs and handshakes.

“We have stumbled upon something that’s going to be great, and I’m excited,” Turner said. “She embodies the attributes and what we need in DeKalb County. It is a great day in our history and I’m confident we are going to write history.”

Flanked by half a dozen family members, including her husband, mother and one of her three children, Watson-Harris was sworn in by DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams. Afterward, she thanked those in attendance, getting emotional as she talked about the family and friends in attendance.

“I applied to be the super of DeKalb County because I was excited about the work and the legacy and everything you’ve accomplished so far,” she said. “I’m truly humbled to have been selected. I’m looking forward to our journey together.”

As previously reported, Watson-Harris signed a three-year contract with the district for $325,000 a year plus monthly spending and car allowances, among other perks. She comes to Georgia from New York, where she was first deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education.

She inherits a district that even before the coronavirus pandemic was dealing with questions about its finances, having lost its credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service amid calls for a forensic audit from community leaders.

She also becomes the district’s sixth superintendent in the last 10 years.

“I was very intentional throughout the entire application process as well as the engagement process not to make any promises. I wanted to learn your history and learn where there may be some gaps and how we can soar together,” she said. “But today, I am going to make you a promise that I’m going to work so hard, and that I’m here to work.

“I’m hoping in me you will find not only a superintendent but a friend and someone that you know will work side-by-side with you to make DeKalb the No. 1 choice for all families here.”