Fired DeKalb superintendent says she was “blindsided” by her termination

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Former DeKalb County Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris told Channel 2 Action News that she was “blindsided” by her firing.

The DeKalb County Board of Education announced the decision to terminate Watson-Harris’ contract without explanation during a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The board voted to fire her 4-1.

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“I was unaware that my contract for employment would be discussed,” Cheryl Watson-Harris said in a statement. “I was not notified and it was not identified on the meeting notice.”

Watson-Harris went on to say:

“BOE Chair Vickie B. Turner and Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta prepared the executive session agenda to address student appeals. There was no mention of a discussion of my employment. I was not invited to be a part of the executive session meeting after the student appeal discussion and was released from the Zoom meeting without notice. BOE Chair Vickie B. Turner requested to the IT representative that I be removed from the meeting without any direction or acknowledgment of me. I have not received any formal notification from BOE Chair Vickie B. Turner or Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta. I will be happy to provide additional information as I am informed.”

At least one board member, Marshall Orson, said he would have voted against Watson-Harris’ termination if he’d been at the meeting, which he said started nearly two hours after it was supposed to.

After the vote, the board released a statement saying the relationship with Watson-Harris had been “deteriorating for some time to the point the association became irreconcilable.”

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“The Board lost confidence in Mrs. Watson-Harris’ ability to provide the leadership the district needs in the face of significant challenges,” the board said in the statement.

The firing was effective immediately. Board members voted to name Dr. Vasanne Tinsley as the interim superintendent.

Watson-Harris was named superintendent for DeKalb Schools in June 2020.

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The Board says they are beginning a formal search for a permanent superintendent.

Turner sent a letter to Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods earlier Tuesday that appeared to fault Watson-Harris for what she called “unacceptable conditions” at Druid Hills High School as well as at other district facilities.

“Please be assured that the issues will be addressed with the appropriate actions,” Turner wrote. She copied Watson-Harris on the email.

Channel 2 Action News first reported on the deteriorating conditions at Druid Hills last week after students made a video showcasing things like exposed wiring and leaking sewage.

Druid Hills High School Class Vice President Darion Frazier said his school had been falling apart way before he started attending, and if students didn’t speak up it would continue to deteriorate.

“It should’ve never come to this point,” he said. “We’re not waiting for the leaders of DeKalb County to make the correct decision. We’re advocating it for ourselves.”

Students at Druid Hills met with Watson-Harris last week, who told them that the school would eventually be repaired.