Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts records a video message about the 2020-2021 school year. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts records a video message about the 2020-2021 school year. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District superintendent Watts to take job in Georgia

Leader survived two controversial votes over past year to keep Kent position

Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts is heading back to Georgia to become superintendent of the Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Watts, who survived two controversial 3-2 votes by the Kent School Board in the last year to remain superintendent, is the sole finalist to be the next Gwinnett County Public Schools leader, according to a July 15 article on

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted unanimously July 15 to pick Watts as the sole finalist and is required under state law in Georgia to wait 14 days before taking a final vote to hire Watts, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. The board is expected to vote July 29 on hiring Watts. Twenty-seven people applied for the job.

“GCPS has a long history of success and (longtime superintendent) J. Alvin Wilbanks leaves a great legacy,” said Watts, who joined the meeting virtually, according to the article. “Certainly with the support and assistance of our Board of Education, our students, our families, our teachers, our principals and assistant principals, support staff as well as our faith-based and community partners and volunteers, I look forward to leading Gwinnett County Public Schools towards its next chapter and trajectory of greatness for each and every school.”

Watts was an assistant superintendent for the district before taking the Kent job in 2015 at an annual salary of $250,000 per year and signing a three-year contract. Watts now makes $279,500 per year with the Kent School District.

The Kent School Board voted 3-2 in June to extend Watts’ contract to June 2023. The board also voted 3-2 in August 2020 to extend his contract to June 2022.

The terms of board members Denise Daniels and Maya Vengadasalam, who voted each time to extend the contract of Watts, expire this year and neither is running for reelection. Board members Leslie Hamada and Michele Bettinger voted against the contract extensions. They each have two years left on their terms.

Joe Bento cast the deciding vote in June to keep Watts. The board chose Bento in February to replace Leah Bowen, who resigned. Bowen had the deciding vote in 2020. Bento, who is running unopposed in November, said he approved of an extension of the contract to see what Watts could do during a year without the challenges of the pandemic.

Bettinger said that she wanted to see more support for inclusive ed students. Hamada said she wanted to wait to vote on Watts’ contract extension until two new board members are elected in November.

Vengadasalam and Daniels agreed to extend Watts’ contract in part because of the return this fall to in-person learning, school boundary decisions are coming up, two new schools are opening in the fall, the district will seek approval of another levy next year and the district much decide how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds.

In 2018, the board had another 3-1 split vote to keep Watts on the job.

Watts worked several principal jobs in Gwinnett County Public Schools before becoming an assistant superintendent in 2008. He started with the district in 2001.

“I have always referred to Gwinnett County Public Schools as the place where I grew up professionally,” Watts said.

The Gwinnett County Public Schools Board voted earlier this year to terminate the contract of Wilbanks 11 months early, effective the end of this month, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. Wilbanks has led the district since 1996. He had said he was not planning to seek an extension beyond his contract’s original expiration date of June 30, 2022. He was the highest paid superintendent in Georgia, making more than $600,000 a year, according to the newspaper.

School board chairman Everton Blair Jr. told the local paper that a contract still has to be negotiated with Watts as to how much he will be paid.

Although Watts plans to return to Georgia, he grew up in Bellevue and lived in Tukwila in the early 1990s after taking his first teaching job at South Shore Middle School, which is now Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle.

The Kent School Board hired Watts after a nationwide search to replace Edward Lee Vargas, who was superintendent for six years until leaving the post to accept a job as executive vice president of AVID, a national nonprofit college readiness program in California.

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