The DeKalb County (Ga.) School Board has fired its district superintendent after less than two years on the job.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the board approved a separation agreement Tuesday with Cheryl Watson-Harris, effective immediately. Watson-Harris was serving as first deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education when the DeKalb County Board hired her in June 2020. She was DeKalb’s sixth superintendent in a decade.
A board statement released after the meeting said its relationship with Watson-Harris had been “deteriorating for some time to the point the association became irreconcilable.”
“The Board lost confidence in Mrs. Watson-Harris’ ability to provide the leadership the district needs in the face of significant challenges,” the statement said.
Watson-Harris said the board's action "blindsided" her. “I was unaware that my contract for employment would be discussed."
Vasanne Tinsley has been named interim superintendent. She was formerly deputy superintendent of student support and intervention.
Watson-Harris' firing came on the same day that a board member sent a letter to Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods blaming Watson-Harris for not addressing poor conditions at Druid Hills High School. The school has been the center of a districtwide debate after students produced a video showing deteriorating facility conditions on the campus.
Watson-Harris faced backlash early in her term as the district maintained strict mask mandates because of the pandemic and continued virtual instruction longer than many other school systems.
More recently, she issued a public apology for “upsetting and questionable” job descriptions sent to about 7,000 employees with their contracts for the 2022-2023 school year. The contracts included a list of 10 “performance factors” such as “ignore irrelevant sights” and “maintain composure” when dealing with difficult people.
Before coming to DeKalb County, Watson-Harris had not led a school district. With more than 93,000 students, DeKalb is the state’s third largest school district.
The DeKalb County board hired Watson-Harris only after rescinding a job offer to Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor.
Crew sued the district over the board's reversal, saying it discriminated against him because of his age and race. The board paid him $750,000 to settle the case.