J. Alvin Wilbanks the CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools speaks during a Gwinnett Chamber luncheon at The 1818 Club in Duluth Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — Likening it to planting an oak shade tree, J. Alvin Wilbanks spoke extensively on Wednesday about his support of the Common Core educational guidelines.
Wilbanks, the Superintendent/CEO of Gwinnett County Public Schools, made his annual visit to the Gwinnett Chamber where he gave a “State of the Schools” speech to a lunch crowd at the 1818 Club. Wilbanks said the Common Core is like a good oak tree in that it should have been planted — or implemented — 20 years ago.
“But today, now, is the second best time,” said Wilbanks, in his 18th year at GCPS. “To me, Common Core is about 20 years too late. It should have been in place 20 years ago, but now is a good time to do it. I actually think the Common Core will be one of the biggest helps we have in this country to really improve education.”
Wilbanks acknowledged the criticism of the Common Core guidelines as a federal takeover of education, while proponents say it offers a chance to measure students progress with peers across the country. The Common Core focuses on two areas: math and language arts.
“I do believe there’s a lot of merit for Common Core and we need to look at that, and not eliminate the continued reading and use of classics and literature,” said Wilbanks, who added that foundational documents and complex text would be good to read and discuss.
In July, Georgia Department of Education officials withdrew from a group of 22 states that had joined together to develop the next generation of standardized test. Last month, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a review of Common Core guidelines.
Wilbanks also noted the recent growth of the school district, including recent reports that enrollment grew by more than 3,700 students since last year. The post-Labor Day count put GCPS at 168,696 students, 2,029 more than projected.
The student population demographics are 28 percent Caucasion, 31 percent African-American, 27 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Asian and 4 percent other. More than 58 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, Wilbanks said.
“This is one of the things that provides a challenge for us,” he said. “Poverty always provides a challenge for educating children and it doesn’t necessarily get any better with all the technology we have today to use.”
One of the initiatives Wilbanks discussed with the Chamber was the new teacher evaluation system that started two years ago, but was implemented in all schools this year. A teacher’s performance, he said, is evaluated based on a formula of student growth, classroom observation and a student perception survey.
The goal of the evaluation system is to move all teachers into exceptional categories.
But Wilbanks admitted that teachers have had questions about pay related to performance. But as part of the Race to the Top education initiative, a monetary amount goes to teachers who score in the exceptional category, Wilbanks said.
So Human Resources Director Frances Davis and her department have drafted four “conversation plans” and the district will analyze how to recognize the good things teachers do every day, Wilbanks said.
“That’s an area where there are some concerns from teachers,” Wilbanks said. “But for the most part our teachers are very much pleased with the new evaluation system.”
One attendee asked Wilbanks about the effect of a lack of a special purpose local option sales tax contribution to the district. Wilbanks said GCPS wouldn’t be able to have any instructional initiatives related to technology if there was a lack of SPLOST.
Wilbanks was also asked about State School Superintendent John Barge’s college and career initiative, and he said five GCPS high schools have rolled out modifications to that.
“It doesn’t lock kids into a particular track. You can move in and out, I think they use sometimes an expressway with on, off ramps,” Wilbanks said. “Kids, it is good that they are forced to make some choices, but how many of us are doing today what we thought we would do in 10th, 11th or 12th grade? We could get everybody in a phone booth, even if we could find a phone booth.”
Wilbanks speaks at chamber meeting
J. Alvin Wilbanks the CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools speaks during a Gwinnett Chamber luncheon at The 1818 Club in Duluth Wednesday.