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Calvin Watts Makes History As The First Black Superintendent Of The Largest School District In Georgia

Calvin Watts Makes History As The First Black Superintendent Of The Largest School District In Georgia

He was unanimously chosen!

Calvin Watts is making history as the first Black superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools, the largest school district in Georgia, EducationWeek reports.

Watts previously worked for 13 years in Gwinnett County, first as an assistant principal at an elementary school and then as assistant superintendent for school improvement and operations. During that time, he watched the Gwinnett County School District grow enormously, now boasting a 177,000 student enrollment. Since 2015, Watts has served as superintendent of the Kent, Washington school district, with about 26,000 students enrolled. Now, the Gwinnett County Board of Education decided to bring Watts back home, voting 5-0 to appoint him as the district's new superintendent. 

"I proudly accept this opportunity to serve as your next superintendent. I look forward to seeing you and working with you very soon," Watts told board members.

He is set to replace Alvin Wilbanks, who served as superintendent for 25 years, recently being ousted by board members who voted this past March to fire Wilbanks a year earlier than his scheduled retirement. Several underlying tensions led to Wilbanks' decision to represent a former guard of a district that used to be overwhelmingly white. With the demographics now at 33 percent Hispanic and 32 percent Black, district leaders felt like Wilbanks was out of tune with the diverse population. 

Issues like merit-based pay for teachers negatively impacted those working in high-poverty schools, and district-developed exit exams that imposed requirements beyond the state for students to graduate were double-edged swords. Several protests in recent years involving racial disparities in school discipline pushed it over the top, coming to a head last year when the district continued in-person classes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The clash continued when students returned to school, leaders arguing over mask mandates and teaching students about race in school. Accrediting agency Cognia has now been involved after complaints were elevated to them, and they are scheduled to report findings as early as next month. 

Watts was one of 27 people who applied for the superintendent position during the search, run by the Georgia School Boards Association. The school board voted unanimously in his favor, making him the only finalist for the position. Per state law, the board still has to wait 14 days before confirming his appointment, but he has already made history as the first Black person to hold the position in the county's 200+ year history. 

Wilbanks official last day is July 31st, but he will receive his salary through June 2022. Watts is expected to take over for the upcoming school year.

Congratulations, Superintendent Watts!

Photo Courtesy of Kent School District