Three members of the Gwinnett Board of Education (BOE) demonstrated courageous leadership on March 18 when they voted to terminate Alvin Wilbanks’ reign as CEO/superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Admittedly, I was caught off-guard by the board’s action. However, I support the decision. It’s time for change.
Whenever change occurs, people tend to react with fear, fight, flight or frolic. And people’s reactions are often fueled by misinformation and raw emotions. This has been the case in Gwinnett County.
Our highly-diverse community has begun to show divisions that run along racial and political lines. And, sadly, much of the vitriol is coming from the adults — not the children!
Frankly, I’ve seen enough “cultish” behavior during the past few years. No person is indispensable or irreplaceable. This includes Alvin Wilbanks.
According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average tenure of a superintendent is five to six years. Mr. Wilbanks has been at the helm of GCPS for 25 years, and his performance as the school system’s leader has declined rapidly.
Here are a few facts:
♦ GCPS has been on a downward spiral and, per the 2021 Niche rankings, currently ranks No. 25 among all school districts in Georgia.
♦ GCPS continues to underreport the annual discipline data it is required to submit to the state. Last year, 338 serious infractions were not reported.
I personally reviewed the data from the Department of Education and made Wilbanks and his team aware of the 338-case discrepancy on at least three separate occasions.
♦ GCPS refuses to implement a Five-Year Strategic Plan with measurable goals and input from the community.
Many ill-informed pundits pose a weak argument that the termination of Wilbanks’ contract is too costly. Hardly. The cost of his contract could be totally offset by simply eliminating some of the numerous unnecessary positions he has created in the district’s central office to curry favor with his friends and allies. Most importantly, his departure will mitigate further fiscal damage to the school system.
GCPS is in desperate need of a superintendent who fully embraces diversity, focuses on students, builds relationships across the community, has new ideas and respects all members of the BOE, irrespective of their race or political affiliation.
Alvin Wilbanks led this community well for most of his 25 years of service, and he will leave a legacy of helping Gwinnett County grow. We thank him for his dedication.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilbanks served as CEO/superintendent longer than he should have. In fact, the school board itself should have undergone a transformation, too.
This is not a racial issue. I am talking about the need for strategic leadership. A real CEO and board possess strategic leadership and they don’t avoid making tough decisions. They lead in developing solutions; they don’t sit idly while the world evolves.
They lead the evolution! The previous board and superintendent did not meet those standards.
Gwinnett is at the crossroads of a significant transformation. We have the opportunity to be a model for the nation. As we continue our unprecedented growth, we must embrace our diversity and not give it political cover. Personally, all I see is political cover.
Here is an example of how the board and superintendent failed to exhibit strategic leadership:
♦ On Oct. 10, 2019, the Black Men United for Children & Humanity, an advocacy group for all children, addressed Wilbanks and the board regarding indisputable data that showed an ongoing disparity in discipline for children of color.
The board sat silently while Wilbanks said he would look into the matter. Later, he issued a press release in which he acknowledged the disparity existed, and he pledged to form a committee to develop solutions to address it.
To date, that 30-person committee has not presented any recommendations and children of color continue to receive disparate treatment. My point is this: Strategic leadership would have addressed this issue head-on instead of ignoring it and hoping it would disappear.
Clearly, it’s time for a strategic change in the leadership of GCPS.
While we thank Mr. Wilbanks for his years of service, we have come to a joint conclusion: The three members of the BOE listened to the voices of their constituents, heard their concerns and took appropriate action.