A rally on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee drew participants carrying signs in support of the facility’s namesake, Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.
Signs reading phrases like “GCPS SAT rates increase with Wilbanks,” “Honor his contract,” “Wilbanks removed = all digital resumed” and “Removing Wilbanks = Wasting Taxpayers $” dotted the support center’s parking lot in the hands of rally attendees who oppose calls for Wilbanks’ resignation or termination and who support continued in-person education for Gwinnett County students.
Wilbanks was named CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools in March 1996. His current contract will come up for renewal in June 2022.
A flyer promoting the rally reads, “GCPS BOE members Mr. Blair, Ms. Watkins and Dr. Tarece (Johnson) will remove Superintendent Wilbanks without cause, in February, buying out his contract with your tax dollars. If successful, they will then close schools.”
The flyer refers to Everton Blair Jr., chairman of the board of education who represents District IV, Karen Watkins, vice chair representing District I and Dr. Tarece Johnson, who represents District V on the board.
Blair, Johnson and Steven Knudsen, who represents District II, did not respond to the North Gwinnett Voice’s attempts to contact them through phone calls and emails.
Watkins, who was reached Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment on calls for Wilbanks’ resignation or termination.
“It is the board as a whole that would be speaking on those types of questions and concerns,” she said.
The fifth board member, Dr. Mary Kay Murphy, spoke with the North Gwinnett Voice on Tuesday.
“Mr. Wilbanks has been an exemplary superintendent and any call for his resignation or termination is totally opposed to how he has performed for our school system the last 25 years,” said Murphy, who represents District III.
“The calls for his resignation pale in comparison to those calls that support him,” Murphy continued. She suggested community members look to graduation rates, Advance Placement mean score improvements and other statistics for confirmation of Wilbanks’ effectiveness as superintendent.
Also showing his support for Wilbanks was State Sen. Clint Dixon (R—Buford), who attended Tuesday’s rally. Dixon represents the 45th District, which includes portions of Gwinnett County.
On Jan. 29, Dixon authored a post on his Facebook page detailing his response to calls for Wilbanks’ resignation.
“His leadership has made Gwinnett Public Schools one of the most successful school systems in the country, and our schools are a significant part of what has made Gwinnett County a success,” Dixon wrote. “And I wholeheartedly oppose the unwise effort by some members of the Board of Education to terminate him.”
Two online petitions disagree.
A petition through actnow.io titled “End Superintendent Wilbanks’ Contract” had 421 signatures as of Thursday, Feb. 11. The petition, which is signed by “The Concerned Stakeholders of Gwinnett County Public Schools” reads, “The Superintendent has an egregiously overpriced contract and unjustifiably lengthy tenure that far surpasses that of superintendents in comparable school districts.”
The petition goes on to state, “Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks has misled GCPS for 24 years. He has enabled a racist and ableist school culture that caters to upper middle-class white students.”
Another petition started on change.org six months ago calling for Wilbanks’ resignation had 62 signatures as of Thursday, Feb. 11.
The petition reads, “You haven [sic] chosen politics over our children and your own staff. … You gave parents the option of digital learning or face to face learning and retracted it. You gave teachers the option to work from home with reporting ‘periodically’ then you retracted that as well. Wilbanks, we have seen ENOUGH and will not tolerate anymore [sic] of this rhetoric.”
The individual named as the creator of the petition, Rebecca Calloway, could not be located for comment.
A third petition on gopetition.com was created Jan. 26 and shows support for Wilbanks with 1,940 signatures as of Thursday.
The petition was created by Buford resident Claire Maki and reads, “It is disheartening to learn individuals are attempting to terminate Mr. Wilbanks’ contract for his/her own personal agenda.”
Maki is a Gwinnett native and a graduate of Duluth High School.
“First and foremost, almost my entire early education was under Alvin Wilbanks with him as superintendent,” she said. “I chose to raise my children here in Gwinnett County, as well, because of the esteemed school district. I think he’s done a very good job over the past 25 years building this school district to what it is today.”
Wilbanks has responded to calls for his resignation or termination, saying, “As Superintendent, I have never worried about my job. I give 100% every day and I work at the pleasure of the board. If the Board decides I am not who they want, they can take action and change that. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do on behalf of Gwinnett County Public Schools and I am committed to getting it done.”
— Deanna Allen