Volume 41 , Number 7March 23, 2021

CEO/Superintendent's Message:

Embracing values of equity and respect to celebrate
our diverse community, stand against racism and violence

On the heels of a second mass shooting in less than a week, our country and many in our community are reeling. Our condolences and thoughts are with the families and friends of all of those affected. These senseless, violent acts raise questions and concerns for us all, and heighten our society’s sense of vulnerability.
J. Alvin Wilbanks

While the exact motives in the two shootings are still unknown, one of them does hit closer to home as family members and friends of some of the victims from the Atlanta incidents reside here in Gwinnett County. Of particular concern is that six of the eight victims here in Atlanta were women of Asian descent. This, coupled with the fact that acts of violence against Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in our nation have escalated over the past year, is deeply troubling and has sparked concern throughout our nation.

Individuals of Asian descent have experienced “coronavirus racism,” which includes scapegoating for the spread of the virus (which is simply untrue) and other xenophobic reactions. As a result, there have been reports across the country of children and adults being the targets of harassment, microaggressions, avoidance, exclusion, and, increasingly, physical attacks.

As a school district, we have a role to play in countering racism and in reassuring our students that they and their families are valued and safe. As stated in our Strategic Direction for 2020–2030, our schools work hard to create positive school climates where we take into account students’ backgrounds, social experiences, prior knowledge, and learning styles; where we cultivate respect, empathy, and kindness throughout the learning community; where we focus on what people have in common and build bridges across our differences; where we connect families with resources that can assist with social and emotional issues and concerns that have an impact on students’ well-being at school; and where we provide a welcoming environment for all children and stakeholders.

In Gwinnett County Public Schools, equity and respect are among our core values and we expect all students and staff to embrace these values as we celebrate the diversity of our community and stand against racism and violence. More than 11% of our students and 7.5% of our staff are members of the AAPI community. More importantly, they are members of our greater Gwinnett community... they are our classmates, our students, our staff, and our families.

Let’s never forget that together we are stronger, making Gwinnett great!

CEO/ Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks

Violent acts like these can have an impact on mental health
and a sense of well-being. Staff members have access
to behavioral health and counseling services at no charge.

Should you need these services,
contact Met-Life at 1-888-319-7819, then press 1; or
email the Benefits Administration Team at

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Gwinnett County Board of Education votes
to transition leadership of the school district

At the March 18 meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Education (BOE), Board members voted 3-2 to transition the leadership of Georgia’s largest school district from CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to a successor in preparation for the 2021–22 school year. In announcing that Mr. Wilbanks’ tenure as superintendent will end July 31, 2021, the Board provided more than the 90-days’ notice stipulated in the superintendent’s contract.

Over the next four months, the Gwinnett School Board will conduct a superintendent search and Mr. Wilbanks will prepare for the transition. In accordance with Article III Subsection E of the contract, the Board will pay Mr. Wilbanks severance pay in the sum of either all of the aggregate salary he would have earned under the contract from his actual last day to the end of the contract or a sum equivalent to one year’s annual salary, whichever is less.

Regarding the Board’s decision and action, BOE Chairman Everton Blair, Jr., said, “After numerous conversations between Mr. Wilbanks and the Board, we have chosen to take this action at this time in order to begin a superintendent search. As this is a pivotal period in our district’s history, we want to ensure we have the time needed to find a candidate of the highest caliber who is ready to build on the many things established during Mr. Wilbanks’ tenure. The timing of this decision also will allow the new superintendent to be in place for the start of the new school year. As a Board, we are committed to doing what is best for the school district and its students and to conducting a diligent and thorough search… One that we know will attract outstanding candidates from across the country.

“We look forward to working with Mr. Wilbanks to ensure a smooth transition and to the many opportunities that we will have in the coming months to celebrate him and his legacy and to thank him for his service to Gwinnett County Public Schools.”

Mr. Wilbanks has served as the CEO/Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools since March of 1996, making him the longest serving superintendent of a large urban school district. Although an early departure from his leadership role is not what he had intended, Mr. Wilbanks has acknowledged that a superintendent serves at the pleasure of the Board.

In regard to the School Board’s decision, he said, “I am passionate about my work and the work of this school district. I have been since taking this position on March 1, 1996, and will remain so until my last day in this seat. I enjoy getting up and coming to work each day and know that there is still much to be done.

“I have had the pleasure and honor to serve as Gwinnett County Public Schools’ superintendent for the past 25 years. Education has been my life’s work for 56 years and my work in this school district has been the highlight of my career. I have had the opportunity to work with the finest leaders, most dedicated educators, and this outstanding community. Together, we have moved this very good school system forward toward our vision of world-class and have served our students well. We have done good work and have successfully overcome challenges that have stymied other districts. I am proud of all that has been accomplished over the years that has benefited our students, our employees, the district, and the greater Gwinnett community.

“In light of the addition of new members to the Board and my decision not to seek another contract, this vote is not surprising. While I was prepared to fulfill my contract through June of 2022, recent discussions with the School Board made it clear that would not be the case.

“I appreciate the support I have received over the years, and, especially most recently, from staff members, parents, and community members. I want you all to know what a pleasure it has been to lead this district, to be a part of the GCPS family, and to be a contributing member of this great community. I know that when the time comes, I will proudly hand back to the Gwinnett County Board of Education and our community a school district that is in better shape today than it was when I became superintendent.”

As part of the leadership transition, the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to acquire the services of Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) in its search for the school district’s next superintendent. Selecting a superintendent of schools is one of the most important functions of a local board of education. GSBA’s search service is uniquely qualified to assist in conducting a highly specialized, well-organized search that will attract quality candidates. GSBA’s professional search team will advise the board during every step in the search process, assisting in responding to requests for information, establishing a search timeline, seeking community input, establishing selection criteria, advertising the announcement of vacancy, checking references, providing interview training, facilitating candidate interviews and finalizing the selection process. As information about the superintendent search process becomes available it will be shared with staff members, GCPS families, and constituents.
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GCPS staff vaccinated through Health Dept. partnership
Thanks to a partnership with the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale Health Department and additional support from Northside Hospital, the majority of GCPS staff members interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccination will have received at least one dose by the end of this week, with the second dose scheduled in the coming weeks.
In January, GCPS conducted a survey with employees to determine the level of interest in receiving the vaccine once Gov. Brian Kemp extended eligibility to educators and other district staff.

Since Monday, March 8, when school district staff became eligible, more than 9,000 employees have been scheduled to receive their first dose of vaccine at the county’s mass vaccination center, located at the old Sears store at Gwinnett Place Mall. Depending on whether employees received the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine, they will return to the mall site in three to four weeks, respectively, to get their second dose of vaccine. (At this time, the Health Dept. is not administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Sears vaccination site.)

“We are so fortunate and thankful for our relationship with the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale Health Department,” says Dr. Al Taylor, associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations. “The vaccination program at the mall has been a seamless and efficient process. In just a few short weeks, we have been able to provide the vaccine to the thousands of GCPS employees who requested it. This is a credit to the network of behind-the-scenes staff from both the Health Department and GCPS who organized the many moving parts of the program as well as a testament to the quality of services our health partners provide to our community.”

Because many eligible staff members found appointments outside of the GCPS-Health Dept. opportunity, the district was able to reopen appointment registration for employees who had not requested a vaccination earlier as well as for contractors working with GCPS and temporary employees. More than 1,600 additional individuals signed up and will receive their first dose this week. The district will have completed first doses for all participating staff by March 25.

Health experts say that vaccinated individuals reach full immune coverage about two weeks after their second dose. However, even those who are fully vaccinated should continue to take precautions in public places to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Employees who signed up for a vaccination through this partnership and no longer want or need their scheduled appointment should cancel their scheduled appointment so it can be given to someone else. If you are not able to take advantage of this opportunity during the week of March 22, you can sign up for another vaccination opportunity through to the Gwinnett Health Department website, myvaccinegeorgia.com, or your physician or another vaccine provider such as a local grocery story or pharmacy.

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About COVID-19 vaccines…

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I’m vaccinated. Now what?
Once fully vaccinated, you will be able to:
–Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
–Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
–Not be considered a close contact if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19 (unless you have symptoms).

Even fully vaccinated, you will still need to take precautions—wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in many situations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says these steps are still important, even as vaccines are being distributed, because we are still learning about the virus and the effectiveness of the vaccines against variants

Take these precautions whenever you are:
–In public.
–Gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household.
–Visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk.

The CDC cautions that fully vaccinated individuals should still avoid medium- or large-sized gatherings, and delay domestic and international travel. If you do travel, you should still follow CDC requirements and recommendations. Continue to watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others.

Remember, if you are traveling outside the U.S. during Spring Break, when you return, you should plan on quarantining at home for at least seven days, based on the CDC guidelines.

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Board approves March leadership appointments
The Board approved these leadership appointments at the March Board Meeting.

New Position
Current/Previous Position
Dr. Al Taylor
Associate Superintendent, School Improvement
and Operations
Interim Associate Superintendent, School Improvement and Operations
Kevin Kriews
Director of Purchasing
and Property Management,
Business and Finance
Assistant Director of
Purchasing and
Property Management,
Business and Finance
Eric Blachly
Director of
Federal Compliance,
School Improvement
and Operations
Coordinator of
Federal and Special Programs,
School Improvement
and Operations
Director of Health and Social Services, School Improvement and Operations
Assistant Principal,
South Gwinnett HS

Dr. Taylor assumes the role he has held on an interim basis during
Dr. Steve Flynt’s transition to his new post as superintendent of Columbia County Schools. Mr. Kriews takes on his new position with the upcoming retirement of Matt Mills. Mr. Blachly transitions to a role that is new in the district. Ms. Baskerville moves to central office to fill the role previously held by Dr. Kimberly Bennett who has taken a position outside GCPS.

March Leadership Appointments

Dr. Al Taylor

Kevin Kriews

Eric Blachly

Crystal Baskerville

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GCPS plans for in-person learning for 2021–22,
modified digital learning option available

At last week’s School Board meeting, Dr. Al Taylor, associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, shared plans for Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) to return to in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year. This decision takes into account students’ academic and social-emotional needs, the improving pandemic conditions (lower rates of infection), the availability of vaccinations for teachers and other school staff, and guidance from health experts and organizations.

Plans for the fall reflect the district’s commitment to safety for its students and staff, with continued mitigation efforts such as the wearing of masks, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), and strict cleaning regimens. GCPS will continue to rely on guidance from the CDC and other health partners in developing plans for the return to in-person learning in the fall.

While all students will be scheduled for in-person instruction for the fall, the district will offer families the opportunity to opt out of in-person learning, allowing their children to participate in a modified digital learning option. Under the modified option, digital students will work with digital-only teachers, some of whom may be at a different location, including Gwinnett Online Campus. This change will eliminate the need for the district’s teachers to teach both in-person and digital students at the same time.

For staffing and scheduling purposes, families are asked to consider the decision to opt out of in-person instruction a year-long commitment. However, if a family later determines it is best for their child to return to in-person learning, they will have an opportunity to make that change at the end of the first semester. Parents may opt out of in-person learning for one child if they feel it best serves that child and choose to have another child attend school in-person.

GCPS sent this information to families via SchoolMessenger on March 22. Only families wishing to opt out of in-person learning must complete the online form in the Parent Portal. The deadline to submit the opt-out form is Sunday, April 4, at 11:59 p.m.

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GCPS announces graduation schedule for Class of 2021
Gwinnett County Public Schools will hold in-person graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2021 between May 24 and May 31! The in-person ceremonies will reflect mitigation efforts (spacing, limited capacity, etc.), based on guidelines from the state and health partners. Due to the limited seating, GCPS graduations will be live-streamed, allowing families/friends to view the ceremonies..

See the GCPS website for dates, times, and locations of the ceremonies.

Speaking of seniors… In these last weeks of the year, we’re celebrating top CTE students, STAR students, outstanding senior athletes, and student leaders. Later in May, watch for the special issue of Communiqué—A Celebration of the Class of 2021!
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Top bond rating affirmed, BOE authorizes bond sale
GCPS recently received good news as both Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Moody’s Investors Services assigned the highest level AAA/Aaa rating to the district’s Series 2021 GO Bonds. At the same time, both agencies affirmed their triple-A long-term rating on the district’s outstanding GO debt. GCPS is one of three Georgia school districts that has attained the triple-A bond rating from both Moody’s and S&P. Only 20 school districts nationwide have earned this fiscal stamp of approval from both bond rating agencies with the three school districts in Georgia being the only ones from the Southeast.

In other bond news, the Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a Bond Resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of the Gwinnett County Public Schools General Obligation (GO) Bonds, Series 2021. In November 2018, the citizens of Gwinnett County approved the issuance of GO Bonds, not to exceed the principal amount of $350 million. In February 2019, the district issued $173,355,000 of the approved amount. The district is seeking to issue $120,000,000 in this next issuance, leaving $56,645,000 authorized, but unissued.
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Registration opens for high school summer classes
Gwinnett high school students can catch up or get ahead with summer classes. Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) offers high school students, including rising 9th graders, four ways to learn for credit this summer.

Online summer classes (June 7-30) will be offered through Gwinnett Online Campus (GOC). Registration for online classes is open through May 30 at www.mypaymentsplus.com. Find course offerings and frequently asked questions online, along with registration information on the GOC website. Note: Students will be invited to an optional virtual orientation on the first day of class. All courses will require a face-to-face final exam at our GOC campus, located at 713 Hi Hope Road in Lawrenceville. Face-to-face final exams for Health and PE will be held June 28 at GOC, and final exams for all other courses will be held June 29-30 at GOC.

Face-to-face summer classes (June 14-July 7) will be offered at three locations—Collins Hill HS, Duluth HS, and Parkview HS. Students may register online (www.mypaymentsplus.com) for face-to-face summer classes through June 4. Find course offerings and frequently asked questions on the face-to-face summer school website.

Many GCPS Community Schools, housed in the district’s high schools, offer summer classes, including Health and PE. Check for registration, fees, and course dates for each location on the Community Schools page.

Credit Recovery is another option for earning credit for qualifying students who previously took a course and were unsuccessful. To enroll in Credit Recovery, students must meet GCPS qualifications and have approval from their school counselor. Students should contact their counselor for important information if they are interested in this option. Credit Recovery is available through local schools, face-to-face summer classes, and GOC. There is no cost to participate in Credit Recovery.

This year, GCPS will pay for up to two summer school classes for high school students needing to retake a class they previously failed. The district is offering this option to students at no cost to address COVID-related learning gaps and to provide students with an additional opportunity to earn credit for courses failed this year. For students taking a course for the first time, the cost per course is $250 for GCPS students and $275 for non-GCPS students. All fees are due at the time of online registration.

Rising 9th graders may take Health and/or Personal Fitness (PE). Both courses are required for graduation. These courses are available at Duluth HS (face-to-face), Gwinnett Online Campus (online), and many Community Schools (face-to-face). The fee for these courses is $250 each.
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GCPS increases driver pay, offers sub incentive
At a time when unemployment is relatively low, filling vacancies can be a challenge. To meet that need, GCPS has taken these steps:

—Bus Drivers: Starting in April, GCPS bus drivers will see a pay increase of $1.90 per hour. The new hourly rate will range from $17.63 to $24.98. GCPS bus drivers also will be eligible to receive any cost of living increase and/or longevity step increase that may be approved for the 2021–22 school year

—Substitutes: Substitute teachers who work at least 25 days between March 1, 2021, and May 26, 2021, will be eligible to receive a one-time incentive payment of $500, above and beyond the substitute’s regular earned pay.

—District Referral Incentive Program: Don’t forget that any current GCPS employee can earn a referral incentive by recommending qualified candidates who are hired by the district in high-need areas, including:

–Special education teachers (any field) ($300);
–Regular education teachers (Mathematics, Science, Technology, Engineering, Computer Science, Foreign Language, and Language Arts) ($250);
–Speech-language pathologists ($500); and
–Bus Drivers ($250).
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Educators invited to Virtual Teacher Career Fair on March 27
Do you know someone who has what it takes to SHINE in Georgia’s largest and best school system? Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) will host a Virtual Teacher Career Fair on Saturday, March 27, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Teaching positions for the 2021-22 school year are available for schools in several clusters, including the Berkmar, Central Gwinnett, Discovery, Meadowcreek, Norcross, Shiloh, and South Gwinnett clusters. Primary needs include certified teachers for Mathematics, Science, Special Education (all areas), Elementary (K-5), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Health Occupations, and Foreign Language (Spanish).

The fair is by invitation only for those who currently hold certification and college seniors who will graduate and hold certification by July of 2021. Registration to attend the fair will close on March 26 or when all interview times have been filled.

Send prospective GCPS educators to the Careers web page to learn more.
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    Last modified on 04/28/2021