I admit, I’ve never paid attention to Gwinnett County school board meetings. As a parent with 18 years in the school system, Gwinnett County Public Schools has exceeded my expectations.

According to the March 24 issue of the Washington Post, about 47% of schools are open for full in-person instruction. I praise Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks for the brave decision to keep schools open and provide families the choice. The unintended consequences of school closures are now coming to light with the increase in suicides, depression, food insufficiency and child abuse.

Kudos to our dedicated GCPS teachers who dealt with the added workload and stress levels.

One operational procedure that changed was the ability to view school board meetings. The recordings are available on-line beginning May 14, 2020. Wow. My eyes were opened wide!

The meetings are monthly and begin at 2 p.m. with a business overview. I have been blown away with the professionalism, depth and diversity of the presenters. GCPS is the 13th largest school system in the nation with 180,000 students, 23,000 employees and a $2.4 billion dollar budget.

Businesses and families flock to Gwinnett. The Rowen Project, “a transformative project that will have an impact on the county for decades” was announced last fall is expected to generate 18,500 jobs by 2035. I am sure a stable school system was a motivating factor with the Rowen Foundation decision.

Imagine our shock during the Feb. 13 school board meeting when Superintendent Wilbanks’ contract was terminated prematurely at the cost of $530,000 to the Gwinnett taxpayers. On the docket to speak that evening were 43 parents. Many were in support of Mr. Wilbanks.

Of greatest concern to me is the proposed policy, limiting public comment at school board meetings. The reason: “too many speakers.”

Perhaps the board needs to consider why so many citizens are speaking? The average number of speakers from May to December 2020 was 22 per meeting. The average number increased to 38 from January to April of 2021.

Is it really an inconvenience to receive feedback from an invested public?

School Board Chairman Everton Blair closed the April 15 school board meeting with the comment, “Let’s move on.” Of course, Chairman Blair wants to “move on.” The current school board, which voted 3-2 to remove Superintendent Wilbanks, wants to silence our voice.

Chairman Blair has less than three years experience and the two newest members have less than five months experience on the school board. With accreditation on our horizon, the firing of Mr. Wilbanks and many of the proposed changes the new board members campaigned on, this public engagement is critical.

These changes have the potential to lower the quality of our children’s education, hurt our economy and negatively impact our real estate values.

The school board needs to listen to the taxpayers of Gwinnett.

Cathy Loew

Norcross

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, the world needs trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by subscribing or making a contribution today.

(25) comments

Hfam

Very well said! I completely agree! It’s quite frightening how things are happening.

SoccerMomof2

Absolutely agree on all accounts. That doesn’t mean to say that changes didn’t need to be made. But this board is not making changes in the best interests of students, faculty and staff - their true stakeholders.

GwinnettCitizen

Like others, I never paid attention to school board members, elections, or meetings. Until now. In joining forces with other parents to get schools re-opened, I started paying attention. I started seeing the vile, divisive comments posted by school board member Terece Johnson. I started writing every school board member and never got responses. The chairman - Blair - has a standard "my box is full" response. The others - I simply never heard back from. Crickets. (Note - Mary Kay Murphy DID respond!). The last time I went to a meeting the board announced they were reducing everyone's time to speak and next they announced they were going to limit the number of people who could speak. This board does not represent my views or how I want my children educated. And they have made it loud and clear that they do not care!

Gwinnett County mom of 3

Totally agree with this article! The new school members are attempting to destroy the awesome school system that is Gwinnett County! Not only are they making decisions that are not in the best interest of our children, they are attempting to shutdown public comment. This is not the way to run a school board!!

BSBecker

[ban] or ignore the citizens who pay your salary Mr. Blair? Maybe you could consider have a town hall meeting or giving more time for concerned parents and citizens about how our county handles the education and safety of the next generation.

Gru

Wonderful article and it shares my exact thoughts! Over the past 6 months I have written 11 emails to Mr. Blair and I have yet to receive one response. We are the voice for our children and we are essentially being told we do not matter.

Sunflower818

Mr Blair doesn't seem to have time for his constituents. I have emailed him many times too.

WLynch

The school board does not want to hear from its constituents because it does not want to be held accountable for pushing its agenda. They got rid of Wilbanks - without cause– so no one would get in their way of putting in place critical race theory and comprehensive sex education. They do not have our children’s best interest in mind. If they limit public comments at meetings, the same public that funds their budget with our tax dollars, they are violating our first amendment rights to free speech.

Sunflower818

Totally agree with this author!!! The school board does not have the interests of the students as their top priority. We have loved Gwinett schools for many years, but are now very concerned about the future here!!!!

LoisSchulz

I never really paid attention to the school board before last Summer either- I never felt like I needed to-the grownups were in charge and they were doing a great job. Unfortunately the level of maturity has changed with the addition of our 3 newest members. Now we are the grownups and we’re keeping a close eye on them.

voiceflavors

I also didn't pay attention to my school board until I was forced to. Disheartening for sure. I understand wanting to try new things but we can't focus hurt certain students.

BrettE

The new board often says that Mr. Wilbanks and the old board were out of touch, did not respond to the stakeholders (hmm, the very thing this new board is doing, but okay, let's assume for a second they will try to change). Yet not too long ago, when Kerensa Wing left Lanier to take the principal job at Collins Hill, the parents at Lanier asked Mr. Wilbanks and the Board if they could have a say in who the new principal was going to be , if not the actual person, could we tell them what we were looking for in our next principal. Not only did they agree, but they also made it a point to set up time at Lanier to come out and meet with whomever wanted to come to the session and listen and learn. They did not set up an online survey that will get read, they did not dismiss us as not understanding or knowing how this works, there was no Just Trust Us. Mr. Wilbanks, and the school board members that represented our area (there are two) came to Lanier and sat in the media center and had a conversation with the parents about the new principal and what we hoped they would look for in the new person. THAT my friends is leadership, THAT is taking your mission statement to heart and meeting with stakeholders THAT is what made Gwinnett County great not so long ago. In addition to that meeting, they used to take their meetings on the road and would rotate between the districts so parents could attend that may not be able to drive down to the main building, and it gave more people time to speak as well. THAT is what is missing here, respect. It has been replaced with a very patronizing attitude from people that not only do not know GCPS but have never actively been in the system. Learn from others, duplicate best practices and most importantly LISTEN to learn , not to roll your eyes and dismiss us.

JIMP72

How many of us have taken our school board for granted? For years, Mr. Wilbanks and the school board delivered, making Gwinnett schools among the best in the nation. We the citizens were asleep at the wheel during the last election and now we’re paying a steep price. This new board does have a political agenda. They removed Mr. Wilbanks because he is an obstacle to their agenda. They want to silence parents because we too are an obstacle. Once they have hired a compliant new Superintendent, their next steps will be to introduce Critical Race Theory, Action Civics, and Project 1619. They may sugar coat it with some other compassionate sounding terms, but the essence of these will be imposed. They will seek to re-educate our teachers and turn our schools into indoctrination centers for our children. Schools are for education, not cultural indoctrination. This must be stopped.

LindsPrescher

Absolutely agree! These new board members are not here for our kids & it shows.

PatriciaC

This letter conveys my thoughts exactly. The new board members seem to be following an agenda from the beginning. Despite GCPS having successfully been open for face to face instruction since the end of August and the majority of families selecting face to face for the spring, they immediately wanted a closure. They are not interested in the parents as stakeholders nor do they put the best interests of the students first. It is so disheartening.

lvt123

From what I see, the school board has an agenda and that agenda is spreading across school districts around the country. Critical Race Theory is the agenda, and it appears that the three school board members are true believers. No matter how often or how long you express your opposition to their agenda, they are still going to feel righteous in what they are doing.

AmandaPaul

I agree with all the comments and perspective from the author of this letter as well. The boards biggest asset and largest group of stakeholders are PARENTS and the board seems to be quickest to dismiss them. If they really had our children’s best interest at heart they would want to be working together with engaged parents to guide decisions for the county. They seem more interested in advancing their own political agendas and using GCPS as a jumping off point for their political futures. I would rather not have my or any other child used as a pawn in that game. These board members are elected by these same parents, their friends and neighbors and their first job is to serve the constituents of their districts. When they fail to do that as public servants, they should consider why they are there in the first place and be ready to be accountable to those same

Constituents on Election Day.

Carol1988

I have been involved for years with GCPS. The board had always sought the input from parents and stakeholders. It is a sad when politics takes precedence over students and school board members, particularly the chair, seek to silence the thoughts and opinions of parents.

LisaR62

As a long time involved parent in the school system, I am very disheartened to see the direction the newly elected school board is taking. Their mission statement states that they will be transparent and engage stakeholders..not some stakeholders, not just stakeholders that agree with them, but all stakeholders. But they appear more interested in their personal agendas then they are the job they were hired to do. Gwinnett County has been a world class education system for decades because of the collaboration between the board and Mr. Wilbanks , who they dismissed after 25 years with less than year left on his contract, because ? well we don't know why because they said trust them, it was in the best interest of ? well we don't know that either because they do not want to talk to the parents and community members that are their stakeholders. Two of the new members do not even send their kids to GCPS nor did they go here, so how in the world can they even begin to opine after 5 months on the job with what works and what doesn't. The "Chairman" saw great success as a result of his experiences within GCPS yet all the sudden it is a horrible place? With a lack of respect for what has brought us to this place and a lack of professionalism in dealing with the parents that entrust their kids to the system every day , it appears this board is not interested in maintaining the high standards but want to simply force their agenda into the system. This does not bode well for the students, for future accreditation or for the great communities that surround each cluster. Hopefully they will stop the madness now and start to engage with all of their stakeholders to assess what has been working, what hasn't and guide improvements in the areas that need it, not blow up a well functioning successful system.

Cheer2988

Mr. Blair knows precisely why people are speaking up. Mr. Blair, Dr. Johnson, and Ms. Watkins don't want to answer to opposition. They also do not feel they have to respectfully listen to ALL Gwinnett citizens by Mr. Blair's too frequent eye rolls when people are speaking. They talk of accountability and transparency and have been neither. We just have to trust them. Trust and respect are earned, they expected to have that from us just by virtue of a title. Actions speak louder than words, they would do well to remember that.

caroljackovich

Absolutely agree with this article and your comment!!

Figureitout

Absolutely the last two sentences and all the above!!!👏👏

And thank you for this letter author, I fully agree!!

Emcarter

I completely agree! I have never felt the divisiveness I feel right now in Gwinnett County. I feel like the rhetoric and the actions of some on the board has created a huge unnecessary divide. And now silencing those who may oppose their viewpoint, makes the divide even wider. I feel like the motive behind some of their actions are far more “political” than they are for the children.

JobiEllison

I could not agree more. We chose Gwinnett county over Cobb when we moved to Georgia based on the school system. I am one of many parents, who love this area and our home, but will gladly sell and flee this mess if this board doesn’t actually begin to listen to its constituents. There is a ground swell of intelligent and passionate parent activism that will not be silenced.

Mmbrudnick

Could not agree more. It’s time to come to the table and not have 3-2 votes for 2 years. It’s not broken. No need to make changes and fix it!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Please log in, or sign up for a new, free account to read or post comments.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.