Credit: Benjamin Payne / GPB News
Savannah-Chatham County school board names Texas administrator as sole finalist for superintendent
LISTEN: Houston Independent School District administrator Denise Watts was announced by the Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education as its “unanimously identified” choice for superintendent, pending a public vote. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.
Southeast Georgia's largest school district is closer to getting a new superintendent, as board members overseeing the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) on Wednesday named a single finalist for the position.
Denise Watts, currently a senior administrator at the Houston Independent School District in Texas, was named by school board president Roger Moss as board members' “unanimously identified” preference for the post currently held by Ann Levett, who plans to retire at the end of June after five years as superintendent.
“Dr. Watts has a track record of improving the quality of education for all students,” Moss said of the finalist, who holds a Doctor of Education degree from Wingate University in North Carolina. “Dr. Watts has consistently used a data-driven approach to increase student achievement, while also focusing on building effective relationships with students, staff, peers and the community.”
Moss did not name any other finalists or semi-finalists from the search, which was conducted by Illinois-based consultants BWP & Associates. The firm “had a month-long application process, and over the last month have been conducting rounds of interviews,” SCCPSS public information officer Sheila Blanco said. Moss specified that the search yielded 49 “completed applications.”
Watts was not in attendance for the announcement, which was held outside the superintendent's offices in downtown Savannah. She did not respond to GPB's written request for comment. The board did not provide any statement from her in a press release distributed after the announcement.
Moss said that the public would not have any chance to provide further input or to question Watts, with whom he said negotiations have already begun.
However, Watts would still need to be approved by the board in a public meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.
When asked at the announcement by GPB when Watts would be in Savannah, Moss replied, “She will be here after she's voted in.”
“So, it's a foregone conclusion?” GPB asked.
“We are following the process,” Moss replied.
The Current reporter Craig Nelson asked Moss, “Why are you announcing only one finalist? Doesn't that make any vote sort of pro forma?”
“You could look at it that way,” Moss replied. “This is the finalist that we all agreed on, and that is what we're doing.”
GPB asked Moss if Watts had told the board what she sees as the district's biggest challenge.
“Yes — it's the challenge facing all school districts,” Moss replied. When GPB asked him to clarify, he responded, “Literacy.”
According to the most recent data from the Georgia Department of Education, 34.1% of SCCPSS elementary students read at or above their grade level, compared to the state average of 46.7%. Grade-level literacy among the district's middle (38.4%) and high school (45.8%) students also underperformed, compared to the state averages of 53% and 56.7%, respectively.