At some point, almost everyone has come to a career crossroads for one reason or another.
For Katina Watts, it was at her chosen college that she learned her preferred program of study wasn’t available. Always the problem-solver, she sought more information and devised a life-affirming “Plan B.”
And the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is so glad she did!
It all began when Ms. Watts was going to pursue psychology after encouragement from a high school psychologist. After enrolling at Savannah State University, where psychology wasn’t an option, she chose the school social work program only after a trusted college advisor helped her understand what they do and their immeasurable impact.
“Before then, I thought all social workers did was take people’s kids away and deal with Medicaid and food stamp issues. That’s not what I wanted to do,” Ms. Watts said. “But then I learned that social work is about helping people get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ From then on, I was all in.”
It’s a journey Ms. Watts has never regretted. For her exceptional service and success with DCSD over the last 20 years, she was named the 2023 DCSD Social Worker of the Year earlier this month during the annual National School Social Worker Week, which honors these professionals for their contributions to helping students achieve personal and academic success. Additionally, she was recently promoted to Lead Social Worker for the District.
“It’s overwhelming and exciting simultaneously,” Ms. Watts said. “It feels good that my colleagues recognize that because I just do the work—not for the recognition but because it’s who I am.”
While reflecting on her career, she recalled two former students who overcame challenging situations to become successful adults.
“Those two young ladies inspired me because, despite their circumstances, they achieved their goals,” Ms. Watts said. “They didn’t allow their circumstances from high school to derail them. Not that there weren’t some bumps in the road, but they were able to excel, and me being a part of that means the world to me.”
In a remarkable twist of fate, one of those young ladies followed Ms. Watts’ career path and became a social worker.
During the National School Social Worker celebration luncheon, Ms. Watts was praised by her colleagues for going above and beyond for students and everyone around her.
One of her colleagues was in tears as she talked about how Ms. Watts gave her money when she could not afford gas.
It’s just another example of leading by example.
“To be a social worker, you have to be able to work with any and everybody,” said Social Work Coordinator Shelly Bishop. “I appreciate her practice because she’s connected to all seven regions and is able to work with anybody in the department. She’s dependable, relatable, and an overall well-rounded social worker.”
During the luncheon, Ms. Watts shared how her colleagues encouraged her to apply for the Lead Social Worker position. Still, she was initially hesitant but ultimately took the leap because she felt the time was right.
Her supervisor agrees.
“In leadership, I believe it takes more than one person to lead, and I believe Katina is the right person to walk beside me as we move this department forward,” Ms. Bishop said.
Ms. Watts said a particular focus as Lead Social Worker would be student attendance.
“If students aren’t in school, they can’t learn,” she said. “Many families are in crisis. School social workers are just one of the many supports available throughout DeKalb County Schools to provide encouragement and help.”
This newest career path is one Ms. Watts was destined to travel.