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Wilbanks: School funding the biggest challenge

DULUTH -- Gwinnett County Public Schools is dedicated to providing an education that is responsive to the needs of 21st century learners, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Wednesday.

"Students today need new skills, not just for college, not just for careers, but for life," Wilbanks said during his annual State of the Schools address to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

In his book, "The Global Achievement Gap," Tony Wagner outlines the seven survival skills children need to be successful in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.

Similar skills and competencies will be required of the workers of the 21st century, Wilbanks said.

"We're working to incorporate them into our curriculum," Wilbanks said.

In fact, the school system is focused on several initiatives that will promote skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and real-world application and encourage creativity and innovation, Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks said the school system is interested in developing more charter schools to provide learning opportunities for students and their particular talents and interests.

"In transitioning our schools for the 21st century, perhaps the biggest challenge we face is funding," Wilbanks said. "... Better times are sure to return, but in the meantime, we face unprecedented (cuts)."

The school system does not want any cost-saving measures to take away from teaching and learning, Wilbanks said. While the district will pursue any and all available funding, he said the school system can't count on receiving Race to the Top or economic stimulus funds.

Wilbanks asked three things of those who attended the Chamber luncheon: Continue to use business expertise to ensure schools provide the rich, rigorous instruction needed for the 21st century, be aware of the challenges the district faces as it tries to improve schools, and ask local and state lawmakers to protect financial resources and local control.

"I believe you'll agree with me that Gwinnett is hitting the mark," Wilbanks said. "We've never been larger, we've never been more diverse, ... and we continue to be an academic leader in the state and nation.

"... We're serious about our vision of being a system of world-class schools, and we work diligently toward fulfilling that vision every day."