J. Alvin Wilbanks has participated in a staggering number of school board meetings in his 25-year career as Gwinnett County Public Schools superintendent.
The number adds up — by Wilbanks’ estimate — to 307 monthly meetings.
But, Thursday was a milestone for Wilbanks, who will turn 79 and leave his position at the end of this month. It was his last regularly scheduled board meeting as superintendent.
“On Aug. 1, I will start a new chapter in my life,” Wilbanks said at the end of the meeting. “On that morning, for the first time in more than 25 years, I won’t start my day with my mind fixed on the roles, responsibilities and expectations that go along with being the superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.
“While I will be leaving the role behind in a few weeks, I take great pride in the work that has been accomplished during my tenure, and proud to have been a part of Gwinnett County Public Schools story.”
Wilbanks’ ccontract had been set to expire in June 2022, and he had announced plans to not seek an extension of that contract. The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted earlier this year, however, to end his contract 11 months early, effective July 31.
Former GCPS administrator Calvin Watts, who is currently the superintendent of Kent School District in Washington state, has been named as Wilbanks’ successor.
Wilbanks’ career in education started long before he became GCPS’ superintendent in March 1996. In fact, while he has been the district’s leader for a quarter of a century, that still makes up less than half of the 56 years that Wilbanks has worked in education.
Prior to being named GCPS’ superintendent, Wilbanks’ career had included serving as the founding president of Gwinnett Technical College and working in DeKalb county Schools and at the Georgia Department of Education.
But, that doesn’t diminish how important leading Georgia’s largest school system has been to him. During his tenure, GCPS won two Broad Prizes and has been treated as a leader in education in Georgia.
“My work in this school district has been the highlight of my career,” Wilbanks said. “Here in Gwinnett, I have had the opportunity to work with the finest leaders, the most dedicated teachers, our committed support staff and this outstanding community, and let’s not forget the students.
“Gwinnett County Public Schools students have achieved so much during that time. All that they have accomplished, and their bright futures ahead, are almost beyond imagination.”
Longtime Board Member Mary Kay Murphy praised Wilbanks in remarks she made as the meeting was coming to a close.
“He’s had a very exalted and remarkable career,” Murphy said. “From those residents in District 3, which is the area of the county that I represent — those who live in Norcross, Duluth, Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Ridge, Sugar Hill and Suwanee — Mr. Wilbanks, we send you our deepest appreciation for the incredible work you have done to leave a legacy of a world-class school system for our 177,000-180,000 students, 22,500 employees — 12,500 of those being our teachers.
“It has been an honor to serve on the board with you.”
Board Chairman Everton Blair — who started kindergarten in Gwinnett County Public Schools during Wilbanks’ first full school year as superintendent — also praised the school chief. Blair said Wilbanks is leaving the district in better shape that it was in when he became superintendent, something the board chairman called a testament to Wilbanks’ leadership.
“I’m grateful for the work that you did to stabilize our incredible community during a time of immense growth and diversity, and the (Instructional Support Center) building will still be named after you when you leave, we’ll still look forward to seeing you when you come by,” Blair told Wilbanks at the meeting.
For is part, Wilbanks praised the various school board members he has worked with over the last quarter century, and thanked them for having confidence in him to lead the district for as long as he has.
“Without a doubt, we have done good work and have successfully overcome challenges that have stymied other districts,” Wilbanks said. “I am proud of all that has been accomplished over the past years that has benefited our students, our employees, this district and the greater Gwinnett community.”