Gwinnett school board member of 27 years will not seek reelection

Mary Kay Murphy’s seventh term will end in December 2024
Mary Kay Murphy has served on the Gwinnett County school board for nearly three decades. She announced she will not seek reelection, ending her tenure in December 2024. (Courtesy of Mary Kay Murphy)

Credit: Courtesy of Mary Kay Murphy

Credit: Courtesy of Mary Kay Murphy

Mary Kay Murphy has served on the Gwinnett County school board for nearly three decades. She announced she will not seek reelection, ending her tenure in December 2024. (Courtesy of Mary Kay Murphy)

Gwinnett County school board member Mary Kay Murphy, who joined the board in January 1997, announced Thursday she will not seek reelection next year.

Murphy is in her seventh term as the representative of District 3. When her term ends at the end of 2024, she will have served 28 years on the board of the state’s largest school district.

“It has been a great honor, and my family and I will forever appreciate the trust our community has placed in me as I served in this office for nearly three decades,” Murphy said in a news release.

The board has made many major decisions in recent years, including terminating the contract of former Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who was hired just months before Murphy was first elected. Murphy did not vote to end Wilbanks’ tenure early, but she was part of the unanimous decision in 2021 to hire Calvin Watts as the next superintendent.

Gwinnett voters in District 3 will select Murphy’s successor on May 21 — if no candidate reaches a majority, there will be a runoff between the two top finishers. Murphy said she is open to endorsing a candidate, “ensuring a seamless transition and continued advancement of Gwinnett’s education excellence.” Several people have already announced their intention to run in the nonpartisan election for the seat.

Along with District 3, the seats in District 1, held by Karen Watkins, and District 5, held by board Chair Tarece Johnson-Morgan, are up for election.

Former school board member Louise Radloff called Murphy “one of the brightest and most brilliant members that has ever served on the Gwinnett County Board of Education,” adding, “she understands the budget, she gets the complexity of the issues, she knows what the role of the board is.” Radloff served 47 years on the board, including more than 20 with Murphy.

Gwinnett has transformed rapidly since Murphy joined the board. The population was less than 500,000 in 1997, according to the U.S. census. It’s now approaching 1 million, leading to more students, more staff members and more schools over the years.

The district has also become one of the most diverse in the country. The majority of students were white at the start of Murphy’s tenure. Now, no racial or ethnic group represents the majority — the largest demographics in the district are Hispanic and Black students, each making up about one-third of the student population.

Murphy said the district twice winning the national Broad Prize for Urban Education was a highlight of her tenure, calling the awards “a testament to (the district’s) outstanding work in closing the achievement gap and elevating academic performance among low-income and minority students.”

Murphy pledged to remain “deeply committed” to her work on the board through the end of her term. Lingering issues on the current board include selecting a sex education curriculum, funding decisions with the expiration of federal pandemic aid, disagreements over the equitability of allocations and ongoing efforts to revamp literacy.

Murphy served five terms as school board chair, 15 years on the board of the Georgia School Board Association and was on educational advisory committees for the governor and for the 7th Congressional District.

“My work on the board has been enriched by our community that values public education, by two superintendents, by other board members and by principals, teachers, staff and other employees of Gwinnett County Public Schools,” she stated.

Murphy described herself as “a champion for safe and secure schools, excellent principals and teachers, fiscal responsibility, parental engagement and college and career ready programs for a diverse student body.”