X

Gwinnett superintendent highlights milestones during State of Schools

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks gives a state of the schools address at the Infinite Energy Center Gwinnett Wednesday, September 11, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks gives a state of the schools address at the Infinite Energy Center Gwinnett Wednesday, September 11, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Gwinnett County Public Schools have reached another enrollment milestone, surpassing 180,000 students. As of Sept. 3, the district has a count of 180,324 — 120 more than it projected.

Although Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks joked that the person who missed the mark is now out of a job, he was serious when he explained the major impact those numbers have. Coming within 0.07% of the actual enrollment isn’t easy to do. The science of getting it right has major implications. Schools have to know how many teachers to hire and what other resources are needed well before the bell rings on the first day of class.

Wilbanks put those kind of statistics into context as he highlighted the school system’s achievements at the annual State of the Schools address Wednesday hosted by the Gwinnett Chamber at The Forum at the Infinite Energy Center.

Related story: Busy start for Gwinnett schools

Although Gwinnett is the 13th largest school district in the country, factor in that Hawaii has a statewide system, as does Puerto Rico, and perspective shows how daunting it is to have so many students under one jurisdiction.

“I don’t know if being the biggest is much of an advantage. It just means there’s more to do and more people to do it,” said Wilbanks. “Our mission is all the same — making sure kids are prepared for the next phase of their lives.”

As the largest school district in the state, its enrollment surpasses Cobb County, the second largest district, by nearly 70,000 students. With the opening of McClure Health Science High School last month, Gwinnett has 141 schools — 80 elementary, 29 middle, 23 high and nine specialty schools.

Gwinnett County  voters approved a general obligation bond in November that will allot $350 million for the district to improve existing schools and move forward with plans for a new School of the Arts at Central Gwinnett High School. Another new school to progress past the drawing board is Seckinger High School, to come online in August 2022.

“It will give some relief to the Mill Creek Cluster,” said Wilbanks.

He pointed out that Gwinnett schools are divided into 19 clusters with about 6,000 to 13,000 students in each one. Long ago they may have been built around a single high school, but growth necessitates more structures, and post-graduation goals dictate that themes such as technology, health care and the arts become the focus of future facilities.

Gwinnett also has been identified as the most diverse school district in the state. Demographics show the ethnic breakdown is 32.1% Hispanic, 31.9% black, 21% white, 10.9% Asian and 4.1% multi-racial or other. Gwinnett’s student population is made up of 13% special education students, 14% gifted students and 19% English-language learners, and 56% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Another highlight is the growth of the dual-language immersion program. Gwinnett has seven schools that focus on Spanish: Annistown, Bethesda, Camp Creek, Baldwin, Ivy Creek, Meadowcreek and Level Creek elementaries; one — Trip Elementary, with a focus on French and, new this year, Parsons Elementary has the only Korean immersion program in the Southeast.

Wilbanks said the district is putting together plans for the next 10 years and encouraged the community to remain involved.

Public school education by the numbers

Enrollment

United States: 50.8 million

Georgia: 1,759,833

Gwinnett: 180,324

Average per pupil spending

United States: $13,440

Georgia: $10,893

Gwinnett: $9,960

2019-2020 budget

United States: $680 billion

Georgia: $12.7 billion

Gwinnett: $2.319 billion

Teaching staff

United States: 3.7 million

Georgia: 114,800

Gwinnett: 12,118

Source: Gwinnett County Public Schools