DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned that DeKalb County school board members notified former superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris months ago that they were not satisfied with many elements of her performance during her first year running the district from July 2020 through June 2021.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has obtained a copy of the board’s confidential evaluation of Watson-Harris dated Sept. 7, 2021.
A major concern was the condition of buildings all over the district. The condition of DeKalb schools exploded into a public controversy when students at Druid Hills High School circulated a video of conditions inside their school.
Within weeks, the board fired Watson-Harris who said at the time the move “blindsided” her.
“I was not given any reason for termination. I do not believe that there’s any grounds for me to be terminated. I believe I was doing a good job,” Watson-Harris told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne two days after her April 26 firing. During that interview, the former superintendent said she had hired legal counsel.
Channel 2 Action News has now learned that her legal counsel is Clint Rucker, formerly a top prosecutor in the Fulton County DA’s Office who is now in private practice.
Rucker texted Belcher that the former superintendent’s legal team will meet this week “to discuss next steps including a possible lawsuit regarding the contract and some public statements made by officials.”
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Rucker said taking part in the planning will be Ed Garland of Garland, Samuel & Loeb. Garland is one of Atlanta’s better-known attorneys, mostly known for criminal defense work.
Even though Watson-Harris said she was “blindsided,” the confidential review of her first year on the job should have signaled to her that many board members were expecting more on many counts.
Board members deemed only five goals completed during her first year.
They included: ensuring all students have access to technology; timely submission of financial documents to state auditors; and establishing world class wraparound services. Those often include services for families of students.
But overall, the board was less impressed.
Channel 2 Action News went through the confidential report and found there were 55 board votes that various tasks were completed satisfactorily, but 71 board votes across various tasks saying the superintendent’s performance needed improvement.
The superintendent’s worst scores came in two areas. Six of seven board members said she needed to improve implementation of the district’s master plan which affect scores of facilities. Six of seven were unsatisfied with her performance overseeing the physical state of the district’s facilities.
The student video of the wretched conditions inside Druid Hills High attracted tens of thousands of online views and became an embarrassment to the district.
Board observations recorded in that same report months earlier underscored the growing frustration with the condition of district facilities, and criticized the system for correcting those problems.
This comes directly from the report: “Outstanding work orders are at a 4-year high. District is heading in absolutely the wrong direction.”
In her April 28 interview with Channel 2 Action News, Watson-Harris admitted that the conditions at Druid Hills HS are “bad,” and said there were many other facilities that needed attention.
Because the board hasn’t explained the reason or reasons for the superintendent’s firing, it’s not clear if the controversy over the Druid Hills video was a major factor in the board’s decision.
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