Staff Photo: Frank Reddy J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent with Gwinnett County Public Schools, addresses members of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Wednesday during his annual state of the school system address.
DULUTH -- Members of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce listened Wednesday as Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks shared his vision of the future for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
A majority of his speech centered around the proposed extension of the one-cent sales tax for education, which goes before Gwinnett County voters Nov. 8.
He said the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, extension would allow the system to build new schools, add on to some existing schools and improve technology.
A new iteration of SPLOST could produce a bulk of funding for the digital initiative eCLASS (Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System).
Wilbanks said eCLASS is an "important tool that will help us to expand what we do in the classroom."
Initial funding for the software came from federal Race to the Top grants.
Wilbanks said despite the cost of the software and content needed for eCLASS, it would be a cost-savings measure in the long run.
Using the system, students can access digital content with a tablet-type device or computer.
He said the cost of textbooks is about $29 million annually.
Using eCLASS, the need for textbooks would be diminished, he said.
A member of the audience, Sarah Latchaw, asked Wilbanks if the system would provide a means for students who could not afford a digital device to access content.
He replied that the district would "make sure that those students don't suffer just because they don't have" the technology.
The program is set to start officially in August of 2012. District officials plan to use several clusters or communities to "pilot" the program.
Wilbanks touched on other subjects as well Wednesday, including the successes of the past year like the district's winning of the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education.
"We're very proud of what's happening in our schools," Wilbanks said. "We didn't get to be Broad prize winners by having a few good schools. We won because we have a lot of great schools in this county, and we're going to aim to continue that."