Cheryl Watson-Harris – DeKalb Schools Superintendent – Sole Finalist

The DeKalb County Board of Education announces Cheryl Watson-Harris as the sole finalist in its search for a new superintendent.

Watson-Harris has a history in education as a teacher, principal, network superintendent and senior executive director of field support. Currently, she serves as First Deputy Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education (DOE), the largest school district in the country with more than one million enrolled students.

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 DOE. She considers herself a social justice warrior and currently oversees all the DOE executive superintendents and works to support and develop teachers, principals, and district administrators.


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, including an online town hall meeting during which the public is invited to ask questions.

The town hall will be available to view live on the DCSD 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 For more information and updates about the schedule, visit the superintendent search page and follow the DCSD social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Cheryl Watson-Harris Biography

Cheryl Watson-Harris is a self proclaimed equity warrior with 26 years of education experience in large urban school districts.

Watson-Harris joined the New York City Department of Education in 2015 and currently serves as the First Deputy Chancellor, Senior Director of Field Support and Brooklyn Executive Director, a position that serves a diverse cohort of 1.1 million students.

A New York City native, Watson-Harris started her teaching career in 1993 in Brooklyn, where she served as a principal in Boston for 15 years, and was a Network Superintendent for Boston Public Schools from 2013 to 2015 before joining the New York City Department of Education.

Watson-Harris earned her Bachelor of Science in Education from Marymount College in Tarrytown New York, and a Masters in Education from Harvard University. She is currently a doctoral student at the New York University Polytechnic Institute with an anticipated completion date of 2021, with a doctorate in educational leadership and innovation.

62 responses to “Cheryl Watson-Harris – DeKalb Schools Superintendent – Sole Finalist

  1. Best of luck but we don’t need a social justice warrior, we need someone competent that can run a school district.

  2. “equity warrior” … I like that. Here’s hoping!

  3. We need an honest, competent, strong and capable superintendent.

  4. Jen Greenwald

    I love that she’s well educated, that she’s coming from a large district that serves a diverse population, that she has school age children, and that she’s got many years left in her career. And that the worse things the internet searches find are that she makes her own children’s school choices a priority and that she tends to get promotions regularly.

  5. New York again:( There were no local candidates???

  6. Stan? Status on the 403b settlement?

  7. Stan Jester

    JJ … Gold Case… we are in the final stretch.

  8. Great news about the Gold case!

  9. If we have someone who can lead and realizes that students and teachers are more than a test score and a school is more than a CCRPI, then that is a winner in my book. We need to be able to really start educating our students in DeKalb for the real world.

  10. Despina Lamas

    This. Is. Terrific. Bravo to you and your fellow BOE members for finding this person! Can’t wait to meet her!

  11. DSW2Contributor

    She listed Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Bethel AME Church on her resume.

  12. DSW2Contributor

    “50 NYC Department of Education staffers have died from coronavirus”

  13. I’m optimistic about this candidate. The word “innovation” in her doctoral degree info caught my attention. Indeed, we need more “creativity” and “innovation” in the classroom AND the boardroom.

  14. ExperiencedEducator

    It is also wonderful to know that one can fight for social justice and equity while also leading a school district, or a school, or a classroom, or a restaurant, or a police department, or a municipality, or an entire country, especially in the current atmosphere. And if one can’t see the importance of being able to do both says alot without saying much. As a proud member of the illustrious Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated with no direct religious affiliation, I welcome this AKA sister and Bethel AME member to Dekalb. In addition, I sincerely hope that as we all begin to get out more that we continue to protect ourselves and each other from the Coronavirus and while doing so also take some time to remember and pray for the families of those Dekalb residents that we lost to this horrible disease as we do the same for those who worked for the NYC DOE. Fear doesn’t live here.

  15. Thanks Stan for the update on the Gold Case.

  16. Kind.educator

    I agree that she is a better candidate for Dekalb
    On a side note, I think that sorority/fraternity and church affiliation should not be included on a resume. The culture of “friends and family” hiring in Dekalb is well known to hire not the best candidates but do so because of sorority/church affiliation.

  17. Robert Morris

    This looks like a very promising candidate. She is young, well-educated, classroom experience, no controversy, and a broad resume.

  18. Dekalb staff

    I really like a lot of what Ms Tyson has done, but budget options 2 and 3 are far worse than option 1.

  19. I’m really disappointed in the loss of our instructional support specialists. Our RTI process has been greatly improved, but I assume all schools didn’t utilize their ISS’s in the same way. The district should consider making those cuts based on need. In a school like mine, where most students are in need of support, they’re a greater need than in schools where most students perform at grade level.

  20. My Money Honey

    Did the board discuss the Gold case Monday, today, at the board meeting and when faculty and staff will receive their money?

  21. I would like a follow up on the Gold case as well.

  22. Stan Jester

    I don’t have any updates about the Gold case.

  23. Frustrated dekalb teacher

    Why are iss even been considered to be cut. In this environment. The iss are needed to man the gap between the teachers and the students in the virtual environment. To Lose the iss would be an incalculable loss to dekalb. Penny wise and pound foolish. And no other system has done this. None. Again please reconsider other options

  24. An ISS who will be alright!!

    Please do your homework. Now that the rti process is taking hold. You want to get rid of the iss. Shame shame shame. Who will speak for The children ? We were having a hard enough time getting referrals. Now in the virtual world of learning. Our children will fall in the cracks. Shame shame. Dig deeper. There are other areas that can be cut. Iss directly impact student achievement . Parents mobilize !!!If our proposed superintendent is indeed an equity sup then she must see through this ruse. Speak for the children.MTSS. Are you at the table? Mr Jester dont fail us now.

  25. There are budget cuts? Where can we learn about these proposals and how it may affect Instructional Support Specialists (who are vital in some schools, fifth wheels in others)? Does the Board publish meeting minutes? Just curious.

  26. Cut The Fat

    Cut more positions that don’t directly work with students. Save more money to offset more furlough days.

  27. Thanks- not always easy to find this information. The budget issues are big- probably deserving of a separate post.
    You remain the greatest single source of information about county schools. We hear nothing until it appears in the AJC. We may not always agree, but you are deeply appreciated and will be missed.

  28. “Equity Warrior”
    That is a new one for me. It begs the question, why does DeKalb need an “equity warrior?” We have had four years of extra funding and resources being thrown at low performing schools at the expense of schools with higher test scores.

    It takes three months longer (on average) for a work order to be completed in region 2 than it does in region 7. How about equity in facilities?

  29. Truly Concerned

    I am very concerned about the possible loss of Instructional Support Specialist positions. I am an Instructional Support Specialist, and for the last 3 years I have been working diligently to ensure that the students in MTSS receive the services they so desperately deserve. I have a caseload of over 170 students who have been legitimately referred for services because they have tremendous academic deficits, behavior concerns, and communication deficits. Because of the MTSS these students have been receiving, progress is being made. If the Instructional Support Specialists are no longer in place to ensure that these students are receiving the services they need, the students will suffer. There will be no checks and balances for intervention deliveries. Addiditonally, Instructional Support Specialists coach teachers, assist with discipline, provide professional learning opportunities for teachers, tutor students, and maintain a home-school connection with parents. I truly hope that the school board reconsiders cutting this position because it is essential for our students.

  30. @Edugator I agree that we need more, not less support in the classroom, especially with students in the RTI process. Question: Why can’t they swap ISS for Instructional Coaches? We have at least (4) in our building who do a great job, but the real support needs to be with students, not experienced teachers.

  31. DSW2Contributor

    ^ Sadly, many of our experienced teachers are not effective teachers.

  32. DSW2Contributor

    ” If approved, DeKalb County School District’s superintendent finalist is set to earn $325,000 a year, despite having never previously led a school system. ”

    Don’t forget that the Board thought Rudy Crew was a better choice than Watson-Harris.

  33. dekalbteacher

    Our new superintendent will get $100,000 more than she did while living and working in New York and get expenses that exceed a paraprofessional’s annual salary, while working on her doctorate?

    If this makes sense to anyone, especially when discussing “equity,” can you please tell me how. I don’t understand.

  34. Kind.educator

    @Truly Concerned.
    I hope Instructional Supp. Spec. positions are not being cut. At the same time, I wish all Instr. S.S. will do their jobs as the one you described. From my experience, it has been quite different.

  35. Educated & Frustrated!

    I currently serve as an Instructional Support Specialist in Dekalb and I’m appalled at the fact that our positions are looked at as disposable. Previous comments have addressed what we do and the significant need. Alot of ISS’s have not been classroom teachers for years, so to say the classroom is where you’re going to put us is concerning. If the board is not voting until their meeting in July, then that gives ISS’s very little time to either pursue other opportunities or plan for instruction while getting a classroom ready. Dekalb’s board needs to rethink this option, otherwise, there will be a line item in mext year’s budget for state fines due to being out of compliance in regards to MTSS processes and procedures.

  36. Gregory Doyle

    Wow! Amazed to see so many teachers fight going back to the classroom. These cries are not about children. Across the district there are less than 10% of ISS’s who effectively manage the MTSS process. This is evident through DATA and more specific, a lack of it. Review the data reports by Scott & Kanessa. Places with success tend to be K5. RTI is non existent at the high school level and fragmented at the middle school. Let’s be clear, the ISS position is created by taking earned points from instruction… specifically the ISS is a teacher allocation. There should have been uproar about taking a needed position based on enrollment and converting it to a non classroom position. There is nothing more than cries to support this fraud. You have schools where the ISS doesn’t even have instructional background, let alone success with students.

  37. @Gregory Doyle
    I’m sorry your ISS is no good, but mine are well educated master teachers that support our school tremendously. One completed her dissertation on RTI and Scott and Kanessa use their work as exemplars. This is where the idea of equity comes into play. If your school is not in need, then you don’t need one. But my school has a great need. The problem is that this position isn’t monitored by any district department (it should’ve fallen under student support and interventions). Perhaps then there would’ve been consistency on what work is being done at each school.

  38. @Nikole. Thank you for input. You mentioned district department monitoring. Wouldn’t it be most effective for the principal to manage and monitor the performance off the ISS?

  39. Why is her salary in Dekalb nearly double what she was making in New York?

  40. Stan Jester

    I agree that superintendents make way too much. Government jobs by and large are paid by the job role and not a function of what an employee made at their last job.

  41. @Stan Jester
    I agree that it should be the Principal’s responsibility, but I was speaking to Gregory’s point that he didn’t see the value in the ISS position. Our Academic Coaches have a district person that leads them and makes sure they are following all policies and procedures. The district failed to provide that type of guidance for the ISS position. So some Principals utilize their ISS as an assistant to administrators and others (like mine) are responsible for our MTSS process. And the majority of our students qualify for services based on their achievement levels, so it is a big job in our building. In some building, the ISS is not as visible to teachers or students and that is why Gregory and I have completely different experiences.

  42. My school has two ISS one is dedicated to instructional support, looking at student data and making sure instructional strategies are implemented effectively. They monitor the impact that teachers have on student achievement. If teachers are not using effective strategies they provide professional learning, plan with teachers and observe and model strategies. The other ISS manages our RTi process and also monitors 504 and intervention strategies. Our process is much more streamlined and effective. Students who need additional support are being identified. Individual strategies are being implemented. Our student achievement scores have increased steadily. Last year by double digit gains.

    We only have one assistant principal. We need the team to support our students and teachers.

  43. Stan Jester

    @Think and @Nikole. Is there any way to systematically identify a high performing ISS?

  44. @Stan, sure. To start

    A. Have principals and others respond to survey describing the tasks that ISS are asked to do. They should then differentiate those tasks from the type of tasks academic coaches are asked to do. thus creating a common set of expectations.
    B. There should be criteria to determine the level of performance associated with effectiveness for each task. Effectiveness could be tied to improved teacher practice or student performance for classrooms directly supported by the ISS.
    C. The principal and assistant principal can observe the ISS performing various task using a TKES like instrument. Teachers could also complete surveys related to the level and impact of support they were directly provided by the ISS.
    D. Monitoring ISS performance can include documenting the number of hours of classroom interaction weekly (modeling, observing, planning, providing support), noting the type of feedback provided to teachers, documenting whether teachers supported implement strategies with fidelity thus resulting in improved student performance. etc.
    E. As they perform their roles admins can note how effectively ISS interpret and communicate data, create a plan for improvement, provide professional learning, and measure implementation and impact.

  45. OurBelovedDEKALB

    ISS under MTSS have a tremendous role in identifying students who need additional support. This year, our school decided to split the MTSS and 504 coordinator, as it was overwhelming for one person to do this job. Our MTSS lead attended our collaborative plannings to assist with instructional strategies that are implemented in the core classroom. Connections classes were also used to implement the MTSS process. This was all organized by the MTSS lead. Every week our MTSS monitored and sent out updates of students progress, and counseled with students about their performance. Even with the outbreak of COVID, parents were reaching out in regards of how they could get the additional MTSS support for their students. It’s not a matter of having teacher go back into the classroom; yet, who will organize, view data, host countless meetings, provide trainings, counsel students based on specific academic or behavioral needs, and all the other major duties that comes with MTSS? You think you want to put it on the already stressed out AP’s with a student population of 1000+? Remember this also ties into Special Education with eligibility. MTSS isn’t a process that can be thrown for anyone to do, especially a teacher, a coach, or an AP that already has a ton of other responsibilities. Isn’t that what we had before the ISS for MTSS, teacher leads, APs and counselors trying to manage this? It’s too big of a task to be combined with anything else. There was a reason for MTSS ISS; this is a huge framework that requires a specific individual or two to manage IF you want it done correctly, and to see the growth in students. I hope the board seeks more input from MTSS coordinators to get a clear picture of this process and the implications of adding additional duty to the AP’s. Want to make budget cuts, consider positions that does not deal directly with student growth and achievement!

  46. @Stan Jester
    If we are using the MTSS process as the job description for an ISS, I would seek input from Scott McManus and Kanessa Fain in Curriculum and Instruction first. The ISS’s aren’t a “real” department, but those individuals assist them with the MTSS process. I’d say they are effective based on if the MTSS processes are clearly defined in a school and happening with fidelity. I think that is the type of data Gregory referred to when saying RTI isn’t happening in middle and high schools. Our ISS’s complete many more tasks beyond MTSS, but I think that should be the bulk of their job.

  47. Extremely Concerned

    Yes, there is a systematic way to identify a high performing ISS. The high performing ISS’s give feedback to the teachers regarding intervention strategies. They also observe and monitor these strategies as they are implemented. When the teachers are using the interventions with fidelity, it is reflected in the M.A.P. data reports indicating academic growth. Additionally, ISS’s are responsible for submitting Interval Data Reports 3 times a year to Scott McMannus and Kanessa Fain. These reports include the number of students who are receiving support through Tiers 2 and 3 in the areas of reading, math, writing, speech/language, and behavior, the number of students referred for a special education evaluation, the number of students who have been tested and qualify for special education services, and the number of plans with and without data. This feedback is also provided to the principals. ISS’s are responsible for ensuring that teachers are delivering the interventions with fidelity and inputting and uploading the appropriate data for students in MTSS. ISS’s also administer hearing and vision screenings for every student at the point of referral, and every year after that. In some schools there are large numbers of students being referred. In Tier 2 alone at my school, there are more than 170 students. I create and mail invitations to their parents and the team meets every four to six weeks to review progress and make recommendations. The team includes the teachers who also attend these meetings and provide input. Due to the large number of students referred at my school MTSS meetings are held 2 days each week. I hope this information helps to further explain the need for ISS’s in the school building. As you can see, we are definitely essential workers in the school building who directly impact student achievement and behavior.

  48. Just curious

    I think that originally, there was not a clear job description for the ISS position or it was not clearly communicated to the principals. Therefore, it appeared that the principals had the discretion to use the extra position(person) as they saw fit and many of them used the ISS as an extra person to assist with discipline. Through the years, it has been streamlined better with the help of coordinators who directly work with the ISS coordinators. I also feel that half of the problem has been that many people do not understand the responsibilities of the position, have not seen the effectiveness of the position and deem the job as nonessential. I am a very experienced counselor with the district and I remember when the SST/MTSS process was a function of the counseling position and it took away from directly providing social-emotional guidance to the students because it is truly a full time job. There is a quarterly report that is submitted to the coordinators and communicated to the principals. DeKalb has been under fire legally for special education concerns and MTSS is the process by which students are recommended for testing and for those who meet qualifications, are staffed into special education. Therefore, the ISS oversees the process and ensures that the interventions are delivered with fidelity, data is input and uploaded to support the need for testing and/or special education services. If the student’s special education evaluation(psychological testing) indicates a deficit, the ISS leads the meeting to review the data and turn the information over to the LTSE. There is a lot of coordination involved in scheduling MTSS meetings. Parent invitations must be generated and sent. Teachers and supporting staff must be notified. Vision and Hearing screening must be conducted. Minutes must be typed and the next review meeting scheduled. All of the above documents must be scanned into the child’s intervention plan. As you can see, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that kids are making progress and/or referred for special education evaluations if necessary or requested by the parents. Because regular classroom teachers don’t understand all that goes into the MTSS coordination, many feel that it is non essential. I have said for many, many years, SST now MTSS is a FULL TIME job so I certainly hope that this essential job is not cut because the AP’s will not have time to complete the tasks with fidelity and the counselors will not have time to meet the social-emotional needs of the kids with this added task.

  49. Flabbergasted

    After watching Ms. Watson Harris last night- how did the other board members possibly believe Rudy Cree was a better choice? Was it really just that he had been a ‘superintendent’ before? She was so much more compelling than him.

  50. Stan Jester

    @Flabbergasted. Yeah. The search firm spent a lot of time talking to the community and collecting feedback from what the community wanted in their next superintendent. One of the top requirements was experience.

  51. dekalbteacher


    What is the district’s policy on all the support positions in and out of the school buildings? As Nikole and Gregory and others have noted, these positions can be helpful or they can be additional help for administrators. Given that the principal would probably be the one deciding to keep this “support,” seems as if the support person would have to do whatever the principal decided whether that is for students or the administrative team.

    Does the district even require job descriptions and daily deliverables for these “teacher” support positions that can do so much for students or so much for generously compensated administrators who already have assistants ?

    The district refuses to have teachers and support staff evaluate administrators, so how would the district even know how these support positions are being used?

  52. Save Our Jobs

    A HUGE thank you to all of you that have spoken on behalf of the ISS position. These positions are critical and necessary; they also include A LOT of work that shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of anyone else in the building. You cannot give all that we do to someone else in the building and expect the work to be done with fidelity. APs, Counselors, and Teachers are already at full capacity with the jobs and responsibilities that they have. Certainly there are other ways that the district can save money and preserve these positions. If we are to continue to close the educational gaps and support our students’ needs, we cannot get rid of the ISS position. DO NOT CUT THE ISS POSITION!

  53. Stan Jester

    The short answer is … I’m not aware of any board policies regarding support positions. There are job descriptions for every position. Evaluating the effectiveness of various employees is a challenge from where I’m sitting.

    The long answer … The board gives the superintendent and their administration some flexibility in how they structure staff. There is supposed to be an org chart and that structure is supposed to be defined and then followed. Unfortunately, that is something the board struggled with under the last superintendent.

    PATS, as I’m sure you know, is one of the worst systems ever. It is being replaced with all the other systems. As discussed at the last board meeting, it will be a few more years before all of that is replaced. I have asked repeatedly to have all job descriptions posted online. I should take that up again. I don’t think some administrators want the job descriptions and qualifications to be widely known.

    Effectively and fairly evaluating employees is a problem all up and down the chain.

  54. Let’s keep skipping over the FACT that the ISS is funded through general education dollars. These positions TAKE AWAY from classroom teachers and INCREASE class size. The voices are loud, don’t cut the ISS, but it’s creation cheats students. PULL the DATA, review the LAW.

  55. @Greg what law are you referring to? I’ve been in Dekalb long enough to see the differences between our SST process to our now MTSS process. The fact that Dekalb makes you use points to pay for the position is a shame, but there is no way we’d be in compliance with MTSS or special education laws by removing the person responsible for that.

  56. Thirty Years Dedicated

    As an assistant principal of discipline, before taking on the API role, I successfully managed SST. It also made documentation, conferencing, and discipline outcomes more meaningful because I knew everything about those students. The ISS position is nothing more than instructional coaches with a leadership certificate, so that they can be used for discipline if the Principal chooses.

  57. Stan, thanks for your ‘yes’ vote for Mrs. Watson-Harris. Everyone can now focus their attention on the options for opening schools while she begins to assemble her leadership team. July 1 will be here before we know it followed by the start date for school.

  58. Betty Davis

    Dear FactChecker:

    Did anyone know about Senate Bill 466? Can someone tell me why this bill died i the house? This is one reason why Georgia has a high turnover for teacher retention.

    1 Annotated, relating to employment under the “Quality Basic Education Act,” so as to remove2 the needs development rating from the group of performance evaluation ratings which may3 adversely impact an educator’s ability to obtain a renewable certificate from the Georgia4 Professional Standards Commission; to remove the needs development rating from the group5 of performance evaluation ratings which shall be reported by local school systems to the6 Georgia Professional Standards Commission; to provide for a pilot program for an alternative7 personnel evaluation system; to provide for the selection of school systems to participate in8 such pilot program; to provide for an annual report regarding such pilot program; to remove9 the needs development rating from the group of performance evaluation ratings which may10 adversely impact an educator’s ability to obtain a year of creditable service on the state’s11 minimum salary schedules; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for12 other purposes.13
    SECTION 1.15 Part 6 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated,16 relating to employment under the “Quality Basic Education Act,” is amended by revising17 subsection (c) of Code Section 20-2-200, relating to regulation of certificated professional18 personnel by Professional Standards Commission, rules and regulations, and fees, as follows:19 “(c) An individual who has received any combination of two unsatisfactory, or ineffective,20 or needs development annual summative performance evaluations in the previous five-year21 period pursuant to Code Section 20-2-210 shall not be entitled to a renewable certificate22 prior to demonstrating that such performance deficiency has been satisfactorily addressed,23 but such individual may apply to the commission for a nonrenewable certificate, as defined24 by the commission. Each local school system and charter school shall report all25 unsatisfactory, and ineffective, and needs development ratings of all performance26

  59. Welcome Ms. Watson-Harris! As I always do with new superintendents, I share with you a nearly decade-old blog post compiled by a team of concerned and highly involved parents outlining what we would love to see for the students of this school district. Please read on >>