Apr 28, 2022 - News

DeKalb school board criticized for firing superintendent

Cheryl Watson-Harris

Former DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Watson-Harris

More questions than answers are circulating after the DeKalb County Board of Education voted 4-1 Tuesday to fire Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris.

Driving the news: Watson-Harris was fired amid controversy over how the district and school board responded to deteriorating conditions at Druid Hills High School.

Watson-Harris tells Axios in a statement that she was “blindsided” by the board’s decision. She said she wasn’t told her employment would be discussed at the virtual meeting.

  • She also said she was booted from the meeting.

School board Chair Vickie Turner did not respond to Axios' multiple requests for comment.

Board member Marshall Orson tells Axios that the majority’s decision to fire Watson-Harris was “tragic.”

  • ​​”She was an incredibly strong instructional leader who's really beginning to make impactful changes that don't happen overnight,” he said. “I think that this decision is going to be a setback for the education of our children.”

Context: Cheryl Watson-Harris was the sixth superintendent DeKalb County schools had in about a decade since Crawford Lewis, the former district leader, was fired during an investigation into how the district awarded school construction contracts, reports the AJC’s Maureen Downey.

What they're saying: DeKalb resident Joel Edwards, who has been critical of Watson-Harris since she was hired in 2020, tells Axios he was surprised Watson-Harris was let go from the district.

  • However, the student-produced video highlighting the problems at Druid Hills High shows the conditions didn’t happen overnight and that the district has for years ignored problems there and at other schools, Edwards said.
  • “We need to have better board members,” he said. “We will have to get a stern superintendent that’s willing to clean house. ”

Yes, but: Maike Caudle, a parent of a child who attends Hawthorne Elementary School off Briarcliff Road, tells Axios that Watson-Harris was made to be the “scapegoat” after the Druid Hills’ conditions came to light.

  • Caudle said she was able to communicate directly with Watson-Harris to get plumbing issues at her child’s school resolved.
  • “It doesn't solve the dysfunctionality of DeKalb County,” she said of the superintendent’s firing.

What's next: Watson-Harris inked a three-year deal when she was hired in 2020, with a salary of $325,000, the AJC reported. Since she was nearly two years into her contract, the DeKalb school district will most likely have to pay out the remainder of her salary.

  • Orson said the district may not be able to find a permanent superintendent until the fall. He also said the district may struggle to find quality candidates because they may see what’s happening in DeKalb and be hesitant to apply.

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