If there was one message that could be taken away from Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Calvin Watts’ first State of the Schools Address to the county’s business leaders on Wednesday, it’s that their help is needed to ensure the district’s students can achieve success.
Watts came back to the theme of community support for the schools a few times during his speech to the Gwinnett Chamber during a luncheon at the Gas South Convention Center. He talked about families supporting the schools and the education of children, but, given his audience, he narrowed in on the need for support from the business community in particular, calling on them to join “Team GCPS.”
“Your involvement in our schools — it’s not only important, it’s critical,” Watts said. “As schools’ business partners, as supporters of Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, as key partners in our Career and Technical Education programs, in these ways and many more, you are making a difference.
“You’re making a difference, not just in Gwinnett County Public Schools, but more importantly you’re making a difference in the lives of children, and their families and caregivers.”
Watts is just over a month into his job as GCPS’ superintendent and CEO. He was hired at the end of July to replace former Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who led the district for a quarter of a century, so his State of the Schools Address on Wednesday was the first opportunity several members of the business community had to hear him talk about the school system.
While the need for community support was a major part of Watts’ speech, he told the Daily Post that he also wanted to use it as a chance to let the business community know life in the district is returning to somewhat of a normal environment after the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions for more than a year. Many students did digital learning last year rather than attend classes in person.
This year is significantly different, Watts said.
“I think the most important aspect of my address ... was to provide a current state of how our schools are performing, the fact that we are proud to open this school year with 97% of our students learning in person, and to also understand that we cannot do this work alone,” Watts said.
“So, to the second priority is making sure our business community understands the importance of the relationship between our schools success and their partnering with us.”
Watts is also pushing the community to participate in a survey that GCPS is conducting to see what areas community members want the district to address. The survey is available at bit.ly/3hihvKh and it will be open through Oct. 12.
Watts’ speech touched on the start of the 2021-2022 school year, which began with a staggered start to in-person learning in early August.
“As we begin this year, I am proud, honored, excited to say that we are off to a great start,” Watts said.
The superintendent’s address to the chamber highlighted programs offered to students in GCPS. These programs include the new School of the Arts which opened last month at Central Gwinnett High School; the dual language emersion programs in Spanish, French and Korean offered at several elementary and middle schools; the film and digital arts program at Berkmar High School; agricultural technology programs at Archer, Grayson and Brookwood; and the district’s computer science for all and robotics programs.
Programs such as the ones highlighted at the luncheon will have long-lasting impacts on the community, that will stretch beyond the end of the 21st century, according to Watts.
“We have children who will be born in the next five years, even less than that given life expectancy, who will still be living, still be with us in the 22nd century,” he said. “What does 22nd century learning need to look like? What does 22nd century readiness need to look like?
“These are the questions that we are posing to our students and to the adults who serve them.”
But, the superintendent reiterated his assertion that children stand to benefit from teamwork between the school system and the business community. He told business leaders that students can learn at “increasingly higher levels” if they have more access and opportunities in career and college preparatory education.
“Working together, we can ensure that our children will thrive,” Watts said. “And, when I say thrive, what I mean by thriving is our students will make real progress beyond our schools.
“They will be successful and significant. They will come back to our community and build upon the success that is happening right here, right now beyond the classroom as we help them step out of that shadow that is elementary school, middle school, high school to that next grade level, to college, to career and in life as active members of this community.”
And, Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino told attendees at the luncheon that there is an opportunity coming up for them to get involved in the schools.
“The superintendent did tell us we were all on Team Gwinnett County Public Schools and I will share with you that if you’d like to get on the field, we have a couple of spots open for Principal for a Day,” Masino said. “We have probably sent about 700 emails about that.”