Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent and CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks has made more than 20 addresses to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce as head of the county’s public school system, also the largest employer in Gwinnett County.
Some addresses aren’t always as dense as the one he made Wednesday afternoon at the Infinite Energy Forum, but the opening of a new high school, the expansion of Dual Language Immersions and a bevy of new projects funded by a General Obligation Bond Program that passed last year gave him plenty to discuss.
One note that Wilbanks touched on at the end of his address pertained to the idea of a teacher pipeline. A school system as large and heavily staffed as GCPS would ideally like to mold its own future employees. Only that doesn’t seem to be happening.
A 2019 poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappa, an organization that creates a network of support for educators, showed growing dissatisfaction among teachers nationwide. The poll indicates that teachers feel under-appreciated and aren’t advising others to pursue teaching careers.
“Obviously, that speaks volumes to us,” Wilbanks said during his remarks.
Gwinnett County Public Schools started the school year with no teacher vacancies. It’s not rare to start the school year in that manner, but the size of the school district makes the task of keeping all positions filled both daunting and likely temporary.
“We do like to start the school year on a full staff,” Wilbanks said. “Now, I think we just got that the last week, we just got the last teacher. It’s getting tougher. The pipeline is not as plentiful as it used to be.”
Wilbanks believes the difficulty to fill all teaching vacancies year-after-year is linked to frustration and that fewer people are going into the teaching profession. Of those who do become teachers, some studies show more than half leave the profession in the first five years.
When speaking to his executive cabinet, Wilbanks said he turns to exit interviews as a way to pinpoint teacher frustration and hopefully lead to the encouragement of more future teachers.
“When a teacher leaves we want to know why you’re leaving, and they pick ‘lack of support,’ well what does that mean?” Wilbanks said. “We still have a lot of applicants, but nationwide the pool is getting pretty thin.”
If GCPS is noticing times are tough, it’s likely hitting other parts of the state and country harder. Wilbanks said he suspects schools in rural districts spend an exponentially longer time filling the classrooms of teachers who resign or retire.
Wilbanks said during his address that the $3,000 teacher bonus approved this summer is a positive step in retaining staff and facilitating a teacher pipeline. The raises were a one-time salary adjustment that affected all teachers evenly, rather than starting at the top with veteran teachers and trickling down to the rest.
In December, GCPS will be issuing its first performance-based awards for teachers. GCPS teachers will be evaluated by a Performance-Based Teacher Compensation System.
“We think this is going to be something that’s good for us as we move forward,” Wilbanks said.