DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — The DeKalb County Board of Education voted to fire school superintendent Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris Tuesday night and swore in the district’s interim leader on Wednesday. This comes as poor conditions at the district’s schools have sparked a heated debate and grabbed the attention of Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods.
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond highlighted a few accomplishments the county has made since last year during his State of DeKalb Address.
“If I called our banker, he would tell me there’s a $120 million surplus in the bank,” Thurmond said, before pivoting his speech toward the recent issues within the DeKalb County School District. “It ain’t about the superintendent. It ain’t about the school board. It’s about almost 100,000 children.”
Thurmond also shared his stance on school renovations, indicating any available funding should go towards repairing all school facilities across the district, not just select schools.
On Wednesday, just before Thurmond’s speech, the district swore in Dr. Vasanne Tinsley as interim superintendent. The decision to fire Watson-Harris came amid complaints about poor conditions inside the schools, including Druid Hills High School. Tinsley and several board members arrived for Thurmond’s speech following the ceremony to swear-in Tinsley.
After Thurmond’s address, school board members held a press conference where they introduced Tinsley and defended the move to replace Watson-Harris.
“The challenges that we have dealt with in our school district were being ignored in some ways. We just decided maybe this is the best time to part ways and move on,” said School Board Chair Vickie Turner (District 5).
Watson-Harris has reportedly said she was blindsided by the decision, which has drawn more backlash than support on social media. The board’s decision has also received pushback from Woods, who says the board is blaming Watson-Harris for the years of neglect and poor planning that existed prior to her tenure. In a letter to the school board, Woods said his team is planning immediate corrective action.
As for now, Tinsley discussed next steps for the school district.
“One of the things that we will be doing is taking a thorough assessment. We’re gonna start from the ground floor. We’re gonna look at what’s out there and what needs to be done,” said Tinsley, pointing to a focus on an improvement of the district’s graduation rate. “Involvement with the community, making sure that our students’ needs are met, making sure the mental health needs, the psychosocial needs, all of those things will help us to move toward that increased graduation rate.”
District officials said they will release more details on a plan of action in the coming weeks.