Gwinnett school board confirms Calvin Watts as new superintendent

Calvin Watts was confirmed as the new superintendent for Gwinnett County Public Schools by the board of education at July 30, 2021 at the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Calvin Watts was confirmed as the new superintendent for Gwinnett County Public Schools by the board of education at July 30, 2021 at the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to hire Calvin J. Watts as the district’s next superintendent.

Watts will be the first Black superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools. With a projected enrollment of 180,000 students, Gwinnett is the largest school district in Georgia and the 13th-biggest district in the United States.

“Thank you for your belief in my ability,” Watts told the board after the vote.

Watts has served for the past six years as superintendent of Kent School District in suburban Seattle, which enrolls about 27,000 students — a fraction of Gwinnett’s size, but similarly diverse.

He will replace J. Alvin Wilbanks, whose last day was Friday after the school board voted months ago to end his contract early. Wilbanks will be paid more than $530,000, an amount equal to all the salary he would have earned for the remaining 11 months of his contract.

Wilbanks was the longest-serving current superintendent of a large school district in the United States, with a tenure of 25 years.

“I enjoyed working together as we attempted to find the best replacement we could for Mr. Wilbanks for the sake of the kids of Gwinnett County,” board member Steve Knudsen said. “I’m super excited to have Dr. Watts here. I think he’s going to do a great job.”

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Parents protest mask mandate in Gwinnett County Public Schools

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Parents protest mask mandate in Gwinnett County Public Schools
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Parents protest mask mandate in Gwinnett County Public Schools

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

While the vote was taking place, about 300 people gathered outside the building chanting, “unmask our children” and “no more masks.” Earlier this week, the school system mandated that masks be worn at all district facilities and on buses, regardless of vaccination status, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Watts was given a two-year contract that begins Sunday, just ahead of Wednesday’s start of the school year. He will receive the same base salary and transportation and expense allowances as Wilbanks. That brings Watts’ total pay to an amount exceeding $413,000, not including contributions to the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia and relocation reimbursement not to exceed $29,500.

Watts grew up in the Seattle area and earned his undergraduate degree at Howard University, a prestigious historically Black college in Washington, D.C., before coming to Georgia for advanced education. He earned a master’s degree from the University of West Georgia and a doctorate from the Atlanta campus of the now-defunct Argosy University.

He taught in the Seattle and Atlanta areas before coming to the Gwinnett district as an assistant principal. Over 13 years, he also worked in Gwinnett as a principal, human resources director and assistant superintendent. He left to become superintendent in Kent.

Watts was hired out of a pool of 27 applicants.

“I am very grateful that we were able to come together and work through this entire process together and make this happen,” board Vice Chair Karen Watkins said. “So congratulations and welcome aboard.”

Gwinnett superintendents

The following superintendents led the school district over the past several decades:

1957-1967: B.B. Harris

1967-1977: J.W. Benefield

1977-1989: Alton C. Crews

1990-1994: George Thompson

1995 (Interim): David O. Crews

1995-1996: Sidney Faucette

1996-2021: J. Alvin Wilbanks

Gwinnett superintendents

The following superintendents led the school district over the past several decades:

1957-1967: B.B. Harris

1967-1977: J.W. Benefield

1977-1989: Alton C. Crews

1990-1994: George Thompson

1995 (Interim): David O. Crews

1995-1996: Sidney Faucette

1996-2021: J. Alvin Wilbanks