The Gwinnett County Board of Education has named Calvin Watts as the sole finalist to replace outgoing Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. The vote to name Watts as the finalist came during the board’s monthly meeting Thursday night.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Gwinnett school board names Kent School District chief Calvin Watts as sole finalist for GCPS superintendent position
The Gwinnett County Board of Education has named Calvin Watts as the sole finalist to replace outgoing Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, putting the district on the cusp of a history-making leadership appointment.
The vote to name Watts as the finalist came during the board’s monthly meeting Thursday night at the Instructional Support Center named for Wilbanks.
The board is required under state law to wait 14 days before taking a final vote to hire Watts, who is currently the superintendent of the Kent School District near Seattle, Washington, to lead the district. That puts a decision on whether to hire him just before Wilbanks’ last day, which is July 31. The school board is expected to hold a special meeting July 29 for a final vote on hiring Watts.
If hired, Watts would become the first African-American to lead Georgia’s largest school district.
“GCPS has a long history of success and J. Alvin Wilbanks leaves a great legacy,” said Watts, who joined Thursday’s meeting virtually. “Certainly with the support and assistance of our Board of Education, our students, our families, our teachers, our principals and assistant principals, support staff as well as our faith-based and community partners and volunteers, I look forward to leading Gwinnett County Public Schools towards its next chapter and trajectory of greatness for each and every school.”
Watts is a former assistant superintendent in Gwinnett County Public Schools, and rose through the administrative ranks in GCPS before leaving to become superintendent of the Kent School District in 2015.
Watts was also an assistant principal at Bethesda Elementary School, principal at Trickum Middle School and Annistown Elementary School and oversaw staffing in the district’s human resources department. As an assistant superintendent in GCPS, he worked with principals in school improvement and operations.
“I have always referred to Gwinnett County Public Schools as the place where I grew up professionally,” Watts said.
He also held administrative positions at Archdiocese of Atlanta-run schools and was a teacher in Carrollton City Schools, Atlanta Public Schools and Seattle (Wash.) Public Schools.
The board voted earlier this year to terminate Wilbanks’ contract 11 months early, effective the end of this month. Wilbanks has led Gwinnett County Public Schools for a quarter of a century, beginning in March 1996, and had previously said he was not planning to seek an extension beyond his contract’s original expiration date of June 30, 2022.
Wilbanks is the highest paid superintendent in Georgia, making more than $600,000 a year, including a base salary and several financial bonuses built into his contract.
It is unclear how much Watts will be paid on an annual basis. School board chairman Everton Blair Jr. said a contract still has to be negotiated with Watts.
The naming of Watts as the sole finalist for GCPS’ superintendent position comes three weeks after the Kent School Board voted 3-2 to extend his contract to be that district’s leader for an extra year, until June 2023. The Kent Reporter reported last month that Watts’ annual salary in the Seattle-area district was $279,500.
Watts faced a similar 3-2 vote last year on a one-year contract extension. Two of the three board members who voted to approve each contract extension are reportedly not seeking re-election when their terms end later this year, according to the Kent Reporter.
Watts’ time with the Kent School District hasn’t been totally issue-free.
He joined the district while it was experiencing financial issues and there was a $6.9 million budget shortfall in 2017. He was hit with a “No Confidence” vote from the local teacher’s association after his administration announced plans to cut dozens of teacher positions in an effort to improve the district’s fund balance, according to news reports from Washington.
“We did interrogate him about that,” Blair said. “It was very clear from the financial data longitudinally that improvement occurred because he was there. And, it’s a lagging indicator so you’re not going to get the bond rating until several years after you do the work to ensure that your system is financially healthy.
“We did probe deeply in that area and are confident that he will be able to hold to much easier situation here where he’s going to be given a good situation.”
But, efforts to improve the district’s finances appear to have had an impact. Moody’s Investor Services, which is one of the top credit rating agencies, issued a positive report on the financial outlook, citing an “improved financial standing” and a “strong financial management team,” in 2019, according to the Kent Reporter.
The newspaper also reported that Moody’s cited the district showed “a massive improvement in the district’s financial profile resulting in fund balance and liquidity levels.”
Earlier this year, Moody’s cited continued improvement as it upgraded the Kent School District’s credit rating from A1 to Aa3, saying that “although enrollment is declining with a significant drop in fiscal 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, management has demonstrated its ability to address challenging financial situations and deliver strong results.”
Another credit rating agency, S&P’s Financial Services, upgraded the Kent School District’s financial outlook from negative to stable in 2020, according to Watts’ application.
And, Kent schools reported in 2020 that its graduation rate had jumped 8.1% between 2015 and 2020.
Kent School Board President Denise Daniels praised the work Watts did in that district in a statement released Friday, citing improvements in diversity and equity — an area that has been a particular focus for the Gwinnett school board lately.
“Dr. Watts’ leadership and commitment to our district are evidenced by our four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate being at an all-time high, the advances of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and being selected for this position also speaks volumes about his leadership,” Daniels said.
“We, in the Kent School District, have been so very fortunate to have a leader with a continual focus on student success, while consistently demonstrating dignity and integrity even when faced with multiple challenges and adversity.”
Watts said in his application that Kent schools reduced the number of Black male students who received in-school or out of school suspension from 15% to 7% between 2015 and 2020 by using equity-based strategies such as restorative justice, empathy interviews and action learning projects. His administration also established a Race and Equity Policy in 2017, expanded underrepresented voices in cabinet meetings and holds monthly meetings and listening sessions with groups representing educators of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
There was unanimous approval from Gwinnett’s school board to name Watts as their finalist to replace Wilbanks, with both Republicans and Democrats on board expressing excitement about the decision to name him as the finalist.
“He has the proven experience in Gwinnett County at every level that the community shared, in the survey that we sent out, that they would want to see in a superintendent as well as sitting superintendent experience,” Blair said. “And, in that experience, the financial health and well-being of the district increased, the student achievement increased and the provision of equity increased in the reduction of student achievement disparities in Kent.
“Those were things that given Kent’s comparable diversity to Gwinnett we were really excited about (him) as well as just his vision for how he was going to hold to what has been so successfully established here and move forward and really address where we can continuously improve.”
Board member Steve Knudsen said, “he’s been trained and he cut his teeth in GCPS and in leadership here under Mr. Wilbanks and I think that’s going to come in handy. He’s committed to communicate with our community and to listen to our community. I’m committed to working with him to do that.”
The school board worked with the Georgia School Boards Association to search for a new superintendent. GSBA officials previously said 27 people applied for the job.
Gwinnett police sergeant arrested on theft, violation of oath charges
A Gwinnett County police officer is facing multiple charges, including felony theft by taking and violation of oath by public officer.
Sgt. Brad Everson, 48, was arrested Thursday night on six charges. Everson, who lives in Cumming, faces two counts each of violation of oath by public officer, theft by taking felony and theft by taking misdemeanor. Details about the incident or incidents that prompted the charges were not immediately available on Saturday.
Everson was released from the Gwinnett County jail on Friday.
The violation of oath by public officer and theft by taking felony charges each carried $5,700 bonds and the theft by taking misdemeanor charges carry $650 bonds, according to jail records.
Everson’s LinkedIn page shows he was set to retire from the police department this month.
He has been with the Gwinnett County Police Department since February 2001, and was previously with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy from June 1996 until he joined the police department.
Everson rose through the ranks of the police department over the last 20 years, and was a uniform patrol officer field training officer, Robbery Unit criminal investigator, homicide and assault unit investigator, uniform patrol supervisor and general crimes unit supervisor, according to his LinkedIn page.
Outgoing Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks reflects on tenure after last regular school board meeting
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.
- By Curt Yeomans email@example.com
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.”
Gwinnett County Public Schools increasing raises already planned for county's teachers
This year Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers will be getting more money than previously expected.
The county’s school board voted Thursday to amend the district’s fiscal year 2022 budget to increase the planned cost-of-living salary raises already included in the budget for the teacher salary scale by an extra $1,000.
The district had budgeted raising the salary on each step of the salary scale by $1,000 this year. The budget amendment approved this week, however, changes that to a $2,000 raise for each step on the scale.
“Our teachers are the backbone of the school district and we must continue to look for ways to better compensate them for the critical work they do,” GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. “This salary adjustment allows Gwinnett County Public Schools to do just that.
“In addition to sending a clear message that the district values its educators, this change positions the district so that its pay for teachers remains competitive with other districts in the metro Atlanta area.”
Essentially, every veteran Gwinnett County Public Schools who was employed by the district last year and is returning this year is getting a $2,000 raise while new teachers will begin their tenures at a higher than previously expected salary.
Looking at starting level salaries for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree education level and who is starting with the district this year, they will be paid $48,646 for the year. The starting pay for a new teacher during the 2020-2021 school year was $46,646.
Wilbanks said better than expected growth in the county’s tax digest prompted the higher raises. The district had been planning for 2% growth in the tax digest, but the superintendent said the digest actually ended up growing by upwards of 5%.
“The digest came in at a greater rate than anticipated last year and we are experiencing greater growth this year than the district initially budgeted,” Wilbanks said. “With this information, I was comfortable in recommending a change to our pay scale for teachers.
The change to the cost-of-living adjustment does not affect the raises GCPS employees who are not on the teacher salary scale, however. They were also set to get raises this year, but district officials said those raises will remain the 2% cost-of-living increase that district had included in the budget adopted earlier this summer.
District officials said teachers will see the salary change in August, when they receive their first paychecks of the contract year.
Gwinnett police, View Point Health partnering to provide mental health resources for people facing behavioral health crises
Gwinnett County police are launching a new pilot program with View Point Health to offer mental health services when officers are called to respond to incidents involving people experiencing behavioral health crises.
The Police Mental Health Collaboration co-responder program is a partnership between GCPD and View Point Health. A licensed mental health professional will accompany a police officer when are dispatched to a scene to deal with people experiencing behavior health issues.
“Our first co-responder team consists of Cpl. T. Reed and Pej Mahdavi, LCSW from View Point Health,” Sgt. Jennifer Richter said. “At this time, they are able to respond to calls as requested by a field supervisor and conduct follow up when needed.”
Richter said the police department is looking to expand the program with the ultimate goal being to ensure better short-term outcomes when police are called to respond to mental health-related incidents. Police and View Point officials also want to ensure people that officers encounter can get preventative follow up care so that officers don’t have to be called to handle them again in the future.
Other law enforcement agencies in Gwinnett County, including Lawrenceville Police and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, have been moving toward programs to provide mental health resources for people they encounter.
Richter said anyone who is facing a behavioral health crises and needs assistance is asked to call 9-1-1 or the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225.
Police looking for suspect accused of stealing thousands of dollars in money and jewelry from Suwanee-area home
Gwinnett County police are looking for a man who is accused of stealing more than $5,000 in jewelry and more than $2,000 in U.S. currency from a home in the Suwanee area.
Polices said they responded to residential burglary alarm call on July 4 and officers found signs of a force entry when they arrived at the home. Police did not identify the street on which the incident occurred.
“Officers checked the home but did not locate a suspect,” Detective Michael Truesdell said in a statement. “Officers contacted the homeowner, who was not present at the time of the burglary and assisted him in determining what had been stolen. Members of the Crime Scene Investigations Unit were also dispatched to the scene.”
The suspect is described as being a Hispanic male who is between 25 and 35 years old, about 5-feet, 8 inches to 6-feet tall and with short black hair. He was described as wearing gray pants, an orange shirt and white and blue shoes. Police said he was wearing Apple earbuds which they believe he was using to communicate with another suspect who was waiting in a getaway car.
“Detectives are asking anyone with information that may lead to the identification of the male to please come forward,” Truesdell said. “Witnesses are encouraged to call GCPD Investigators or Atlanta Crime Stoppers with any useful information.”
Anyone who has information about the theft, including the suspect’s identity, is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Atlanta Crime Stoppers, which lets tipsters remain anonymous, at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
Tipsters should reference case No. 21-052450.
New principals appointed for Jones, Northbrook middle schools
Two Gwinnett County middle schools got new principals this week.
The county’s school board approved the appointments of Lin Thornton and Brooks Baggett as the new principals at Jones and Northbrook middle schools, respectively, on Thursday.
Thornton was an assistant principal at North Gwinnett High School until this week and will replace Memorie Reesman, who was previously picked to become the principal at Seckinger High School. Meanwhile, Baggett was previously the assistant principal at Northbrook Middle School and will replace Keith Thompson, who was previously picked to be an assistant superintendent of middle schools.
Thornton has been an assistant principal at North Gwinnett High School since 2015. Prior to that she was an assistant principal for five years, starting in 2010, at Norcross High School.
She was previously a teacher at Kennedy Middle School in Atlanta from 2003 until 2005 and a teacher and administrator at the Urban Science Academy in Boston from 2005 until 2009.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Spelman College, her master’s degree in educational administration from Boston College and specialist’s degree in educational leadership from Mercer University.
Baggett has been at Northbrook Middle School as an assistant principal since 2014. He was previously a social studies teacher at North Gwinnett High School from 2002 until 2010 and a social studies teacher at Lanier High School from 2010 until 2014.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Georgia, his master’s degree in secondary education from Georgia State University and his doctoral degree in educational leadership from Walden University.
Kentucky man drowns while paddle boarding near Buford Dam on Lake Lanier
A man from Louisville, Kentucky. drowned as he was paddle boarding near Buford Dam on Lake Lanier on Friday afternoon.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark McKinnon said Jeffrey McElfresh, 55, was paddle boarding without a life jacket. He had been keeping a pool noodle with him, but it had begun to float away from him.
“He attempted to retrieve it, became tired and went under,” McKinnon said. “He reappeared shortly after, went under a second time, and never resurfaced.”
Georgia game wardens were called to West Bank Park, which is near the dam on the Forsyth County side of the lake, shortly after 4:30 p.m. about a possible drowning.
McKinnon said McElfresh was located shortly thereafter and Hall County Fire Service divers recovered his body.
Man wanted on murder charge in New York, two brothers wanted on gang and drug charges arrested in Norcross
A man wanted for murder in New York state and two brothers from Norcross, one of whom is accused of participating in gang activities, were recently arrested by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit and U.S. marshals.
The Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of Ruben and Raul Herrera and Hakim Muhammad on Friday. They are still looking for a third Herrera brother, Daniel.
“As investigators searched the home, they found a significant amount of narcotics,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, Deputy Ashley Castiblanco said. “Large portions of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and cash were located along with a firearm.”
Muhammad was arrested by marshals at the Herrera brother’s home, which is located on Graves Road in Norcross. He faces second degree murder charges in Oneida County, N.Y.
Ruben Herrera, 25, is charged with trafficking cocaine, possession of methamphetamine and a parole violation while Raul Herrera, 19, has been charged with possession of methamphetamine and violations of other criminal gang activity statutes.
The gang-related charges against Raul Herrera include two counts of unlawfully committing offense with the intent to obtain/maintain membership or increase status or position in a street gang and two counts of unlawfully employing or associating with a criminal street gang to conduct or participate in a criminal activity.
The charges that Daniel Herrera faces were not released by the sheriff’s office. Anyone who has information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Gang Unit tip line at 770-619-6405.
Indictment: DeKalb man arrested last week on six murder charges allegedly sold fentanyl-laced heroin
A DeKalb County man who was taken into custody by Gwinnett County sheriff’s deputies last week was indicted by a grand jury in May on charges that he caused the deaths of two people to whom he allegedly sold drugs last year.
The indictment against Decatur resident Aaron Devero Lewis, 33, shows he faces three felony murder charges related to the death of Dieterick Stephen Duncker and three more related to the death of Alexandra Delia Thompson. He also faces two illegal use of communication facility charges, one for allegedly arranging the sale of drugs to Duncker and another for arranging a sale to Thompson.
Lewis is accused of selling heroin that contained fentanyl to Duncker in DeKalb County between Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, 2020. Duncker later died of an overdose from the drugs in Gwinnett County.
The indictment does not specify whether Duncker or Thompson were residents of DeKalb or Gwinnett counties.
Lewis then allegedly sold heroin that contained fentanyl to Thompson in DeKalb County on Feb. 15, 2020. Like Duncker, Thompson later died of an overdose from the drugs in Gwinnett County.
The indictment alleges that Lewis communicated with Duncker and Thompson via text and voice communications on a cell phone to arrange the sales.
Lewis is being held in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond. In addition to the six murder charges and two illegal use of a communication facility charges, he also faces one felony probation violation charge.
- Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US. Now it's starting to rise
- A venomous West African banded cobra is missing in a Texas neighborhood
- Los Angeles police investigating possible excessive use of force in arrest of NBA center Jaxson Hayes
- Just 4% of Hispanic or Latino people prefer the term 'Latinx,' new Gallup poll finds
- Baltimore County agrees to $3 million settlement with family, estate of Korryn Gaines
- Gwinnett police say woman found dead at Yellow River Park was teen from Lithonia
- Gwinnett school board officially hires Calvin Watts to be GCPS' new superintendent
- Eleven Gwinnett schools have new principals this fall
- Central Gwinnett's School of the Arts preparing to open its doors to arts students
- Police: Alpharetta woman accused of intentionally causing crash that resulted in passenger's death
- Duluth City Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg, who was heavily involved in the Gwinnett community, has died
- Gwinnett County students head back to school as COVID looms over third consecutive academic year
- Gwinnett Chamber fetes J. Alvin Wilbanks ahead of his last day as superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools
- Gwinnett County schools to again require face masks in school facilities, on buses
- Track renovations moving quickly at Atlanta Motor Speedway
- ON THE MARKET: With more than 3 acres, this Suwanee area home is a 'wooded oasis'
- PHOTOS: Gwinnett Animal Shelter Adoptable Pets of the Week — Aug. 2
- Weekly Gwinnett County restaurant health inspections for Aug. 1, 2021
- IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Top Gwinnett County stories from July 26 to Aug. 1
- PHOTOS: Buford Elementary’s kindergartners arrive for first day of school
- PHOTOS: Barrow County Animal Control Adoptable Pets of the Week — Aug. 2
- GET OUT THERE: 5 things to do this weekend in Gwinnett County — July 30 to Aug. 1
- PHOTOS: Scenes from move-in day at Georgia Gwinnett College
- Common home renovation projects with the lowest return on investment
- MUGS: 10 felony bookings in Gwinnett County Jail
Find a local business
This is not a scientific poll — results reflect only the opinions of those voting.