Cheryl Watson-Harris is an exceptional education leader and equity warrior who brings nearly three decades of experience and success to DeKalb County Schools, both in and out of the classroom. She has been and continues to be a champion for children, drawing praise for her innovative leadership style that improves both employee engagement and morale throughout the school system and positively impacts student achievement. Throughout her 26-year career as an educator, administrator and community leader, she has demonstrated outstanding skills and knowledge of teaching and learning, professional development and policy implementation, as well as a collaborative leadership style that consistently strives for excellence.
Watson-Harris currently serves as the First Deputy Chancellor, Senior Director of Field Support and Brooklyn Executive Director for the New York City Department of Education, a position that serves a diverse cohort of 1.1 million students.
As First Deputy Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Watson-Harris:
- Designed the new school support and supervision structure for 1,600 schools and 135,000 employees, resulting in streamlined communication, resources, development and accountability structures;
- Led the creation of the Comprehensive School Support model which established a consistent and reliable set of metrics to determine the health of schools, including equity measurements, to ensure schools received tailored and targeted support to address their unique needs;
- Forged the development of The Bronx Plan, which earned capital upgrades, including technology and infrastructure, and hiring incentives for historically underrepresented communities, in high poverty, high minority and hard to staff schools; and
- Led the expansion of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative by strengthening the partnership with the New York State Education Department to increase funding and programs that support the social-emotional and academic needs of the students; she founded the Girls Empowerment Movement to provide a platform for female student leaders to exercise their voices.
Since joining the New York City Department of Education in 2015, the Department has demonstrated improvement in almost metric, most notably:
- An increased graduation rate from 70.5% in 2015 to 75.9% in 2018.
- A steady decline in high school dropout rates.
- Proficiency rates in English-Language Arts (ELA) increased by 17 points, and Math by 10.7 points.
- Black students saw increasing proficiency rates in ELA from 2015 to 2018 by 16 points and Hispanic students by 16.7 points.
Additional noteworthy achievements, awards and accolades include:
- 2019 New York Academy of Public Education President’s Award
- 2018 Woman of the Year Award from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
- 2011 Catalina Montes Award for visionary work around community schools
- 2002 Boston Magazine “Woman of Principle” distinction
- 1999 Selected as the youngest principal in the history of Boston Public Schools
A New York City native, Watson-Harris started her teaching career in 1993 in Brooklyn, 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 with an anticipated completion date of 2021, with a doctorate in educational leadership and innovation. Throughout her career, Watson-Harris has always been driven by her belief that every child deserves a great school and has remained unapologetic in her pursuit to ensure all students are set on the pathway to success.