Parents who support both keeping J. Alvin Wilbanks as Gwinnett County Public Schools’ superintendent and keeping in-person learning available for families who want it gathered at the district’s offices on Tuesday to make their voices heard.
Nearly three dozen parents, who said they speak for a larger group of families who could not attend the mid-day rally, chanted “We support Wilbanks,” and expressed concerns that the school board could tip into micromanagement and put the district’s accreditation at risk.
“(School board chairman) Everton Blair is a product of this school system, and a damn fine one at that under the leadership of Mr. Wilbanks,” one Archer cluster parent, Holly Terei, said. “How in good faith can you be a product of such a fantastic educational institution, and then in the same breath call the person who rose that institution from the ground up a racist? Or that they get paid too much? Or they’ve been here too long?
“We’ve got to stop with this. We have got to stop. We need our board to come together (and) work fluidly as one. Our accreditation is coming up and our school system is at risk of losing their accreditation.”
Rumors and speculation have begun swirling among parents that the new Democratic Party majority on the school board — made up of Blair as well as new board members Tarece Johnson and Karen Watkins — are planning to fire Wilbanks, who has just over a year and a half left on his contract rather than let his contract, with a salary of more than $600,000 a year, run out.
“Who will lead Gwinnett County (schools) if you remove Mr. Wilbanks?” one woman shouted during the rally.
Wilbanks recently told the Daily Post that he does not plan to resign — as some people have called on him to do in lieu of being fired — and said his future with the district will be up to board members. Wilbanks will be approaching or around 80 when his contract is set to expire in June 2022.
“I’ve never worried about my job,” the superintendent said. “I give 100% every day and I work at the pleasure of the board. If that’s not what they want, if they get three votes, they can change that.”
Wilbanks' contract is up for renewal on June 30, 2022, but the superintendent did not definitely say whether he will ask for it to be extended.
There are now competing petitions, one calling for Wilbanks’ removal and another urging him to stay through at least the end of his current contract, circulating in the community.
A video criticizing Wilbanks, and referring to him as J.A.W.s while accusing previous school board members of not holding him accountable, has also been circulating on the internet.
Supporters of Wilbanks did get encouragement from state Sen. Clint Dixon, who showed up during the rally and thanked the attendees for their support of the superintendent.
“I feel that Superintendent Wilbanks, he’s played a big part in making Gwinnett schools what they are today,” Dixon said. “I think it’s appalling that we’ve got some new board members that take it upon themselves to remove him for just radical reasons that have no basis.”