Gwinnett parents rally in support of school district’s superintendent

Credit: Alia Malik

Credit: Alia Malik

A group of about 30 parents of Gwinnett County Public Schools students rallied outside school district headquarters Tuesday to show support for Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

Sheri Mitchell, who has children in Gwinnett elementary and middle schools, helped organize the rally because the school board recently added two new members. She fears the board may not be as supportive of the Wilbanks as in the past.

“We just want the public to know that he’s supported,” Mitchell said.

Wilbanks, 78, next month will mark his 25th year as superintendent.

Everton Blair, chair of the five-member board, said this week that he has not discussed Wilbanks’ contract with any other board members.

“I’m open to having discussions about any topic that any of my board members wants,” he said. “The priority for Gwinnett County’s board of education right now is to work together with the superintendent and come together as a board and make decisions that are proactive and strategic.”

Although some other metro Atlanta school districts have kept buildings closed since March of last year due to the pandemic, Wilbanks reopened Gwinnett schools in August. Families have the choice between in-person or online learning for their students.

The superintendent has the sole authority to close or open schools in the district.

Many supporters of Tarece Johnson and Karen Watkins, the two new board members, have pushed for schools to close, citing high COVID-19 case numbers in the county. Johnson, Watkins and Blair are seen as the majority faction on the board.

Watkins did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Johnson declined to comment on her view of the superintendent. She said she wasn’t in favor of virtual-only learning districtwide. Instead, she has advocated for the creation of a task force of teachers and staff who make pandemic safety recommendations to school district leaders.

“From a policy perspective, I’d like to see where we provide accommodations for our teachers and our staff so that they feel safe and they feel valued and they still feel like they can do their job,” she said.