DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The DeKalb County Board of Education announced June 4 that Cheryl Watson-Harris is the new sole finalist in its search for a superintendent.

Watson-Harris serves as First Deputy Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education, the largest school district in the country.

She has 26 years of experience in large urban school districts, as a teacher, principal, network superintendent and senior executive.

“Cheryl Watson-Harris is part of the next generation of outstanding leaders in public education,” DeKalb County Board Chair Marshall Orson said. “A proven change agent, Cheryl is described as a ‘champion for children.’”

Watson-Harris is the second candidate put forward for the superintendent spot this year. The DeKalb County School Board withdrew its support of Rudy Crew on May 11 after public opposition mounted over controversies from Crew’s former leadership posts.

Orson said Watson-Harris fits the profile developed through community input. She has experience leading large, diverse, urban districts and has demonstrated dedication to high levels of academic achievement, commitment to equity for all students and an ability to plan with a long-term vision, he said.

“Throughout my career as an education leader, I have made it my priority to ensure every child has access to high-quality education and is prepared for successful citizenship in our fast-paced 21st century global community,” Watson-Harris said. “I believe the public-school system is the heart and soul of our country.”

A New York City native, Watson-Harris began her career as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. After earning a master’s degree from Harvard, she served as an assistant principal and principal in Boston, becoming the youngest principal in the history of the Boston Public Schools.

After serving as a network superintendent, she moved back to her hometown of Brooklyn to serve on the central leadership team of the New York City Department of Education. There, she designed the new school support and supervision structure for 1,600 schools and led the creation of the Comprehensive School Support Model.

“I am passionate and excited about working with our district employees, our parents and caregivers, and the local business and corporate community to develop district practices that are impactful and equitable for children,” she said. “I am confident my experience in district restructuring and the equitable allocation of resources, as well as my achievements in improving school performance, can help DeKalb Schools continue to move in the right direction.”

Georgia law mandates that school districts must wait 14 days before finalizing an agreement with a new superintendent. During this period, Watson-Harris will meet remotely with district employees and community members.

A town hall will be live on the district website and via broadcast on DSTV 24 on Thursday, June 11 at 6:30 p.m. To submit questions for the town hall meeting with Watson-Harris, call 678-676-0722 or email

“This is a bittersweet day for us, and we are so grateful for all Cheryl has contributed to advancing equity and excellence for New York City’s 1.1 million public school students,” New York Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said. “We wish her the best in this incredible new endeavor and know the students of Dekalb County would be lucky to have Cheryl as their leader.”

Watson-Harris will be able to sign a contract with the DeKalb County School District after the public input period and formally assume the role of superintendent on July 1. Superintendent Ramona Tyson will continue to lead the district until Watson-Harris officially steps in.

Carson Cook is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Johns Creek, Dunwoody and Fulton County.

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