Calvin J. Watts, an assistant superintendent for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Suwanee, Ga., will be the Kent School District’s next superintendent.
The Kent School Board announced the decision at its March 25 meeting.
Watts said he is looking forward to continue his career in Kent.
“I was both humbled and honored by the invitation to serve as the next superintendent of the Kent School District,” Watts said in a written statement. “I share the school board’s strategic focus on increasing and supporting the achievement of all students, and I look forward to working with and leading a staff of professional educators who are dedicated to serving the many communities that make up our fine district.”
Watts, who was one of more than 30 candidates to apply for the position, will succeed Edward Lee Vargas, who stepped down in October after six years in Kent to accept a job as executive vice president of AVID, a national nonprofit college readiness program in California.
“It was a very difficult decision, but we feel Dr. Watt’s background and vision are the best match for our district at this particular point in time and look forward to many years of continued progress with his leadership,” school board president Debbie Straus said in a news release.
Straus said Watts’ start date and salary are still in negotiations. She said she hopes the negotiations will be completed in the next couple of weeks.
When the school board renewed Vargas’ contract last summer, it agreed to pay him $263,320 annually.
Kent School District spokesman Chris Loftis said Ray and Associates Inc., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which specializes in educational executive leadership candidate searches and recruitment for public schools, private schools and higher education institutions, was contracted by the board in late November to oversee the search and will assist the district during contract negotiations. The contract with Ray and Associates was for $28,500. Loftis said there are additional expenses associated with the search process, including travel for the five candidates the board interviewed in person. He said on Monday those expenses were still coming in so he did not have the total amount spent.
Loftis said the school board was willing to spend money on the search to ensure the right candidate was selected.
“It is the person who sets the direction and tone (for the district),” he said.
Straus said Tony Apostle, a retired Puyallup School District superintendent who has been serving as interim superintendent since Vargas’ departure, will continue in the district’s top post and help Watts transition into the position.
Watts and David Moyer, superintendent of Moline-Coal Valley School District in Moline, Ill., were chosen finalists on March 16. The district had two public forums on March 18 to introduce the candidates to the community.
Straus and fellow board member Maya Vengadasalam recently traveled to Suwanee, which is near Atlanta, to conduct a site visit and learn more about Watts from his colleagues and the community.
“The board had felt strongly that Dr. Watts was the person (for the job),” Straus said.
Straus said the visit provided a lot of insight into Watts’ strengths.
“We left (the site visit) with absolute certainty that we had the right person,” she said.
Among Watts’ strengths are his proven leadership record, strategic vision, passion for educating students, communication skills, human resource experience, years of working with a diverse population, team-building expertise and work ethic.
Straus said one of the strengths highlighted during the site visit was Watts’ ability to listen.
“He listens, he learns and then he leads,” she said. “The first thing he wants to do is he is so ready to listen.”
Straus said Watts makes children the priority.
“It is all about the kids to him,” Straus said. “He has every child’s interest in mind.”
Gwinnett County Public Schools has a district enrollment of 174,500 students, 15,600 certificated and classified staff members and a budget of $1.7 billion. It is the largest school system in Georgia, and the 13th largest school district in the United States. Kent School District has approximately 27,000 students, 4,000 employees and a $355 million budget.
Before serving as an assistant superintendent in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Watts had several other roles in the district, including assistant principal and principal. He also previously worked as a middle school teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools and Carrollton City Schools in Georgia, and as an assistant principal and principal for schools in The Archdiocese of Atlanta. He was a teacher at South Shore Middle School in Seattle from 1992 to 1994.
Watts has a bachelor’s degree in English from Howard University, and received his teaching certification at Western Washington University in 1992. His master’s degree in educational administration and supervision is from University of West Georgia, and he earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University in Atlanta.
The Kent School District serves more than 70 square miles of South King County, including the cities of Kent and Covington, and portions of Auburn, Black Diamond, Maple Valley, Renton and SeaTac. It is one of the most diverse districts in the state with more than 130 languages spoken by its students and families.
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