9 – Alvin Wilbanks

Gwinnett Schools Superintendent
Index – 2014 Summer Leadership Conference

Alice Thompson
Alvin Wilbanks is the Superintendent of the Gwinnett County Public Schools. At this time, we’d like Mr. Thurmond to introduce our speaker.
Michael Thurmond
Good morning, again. It is my privilege and honor to introduce the Dean of school superintendents in Georgia. He is a visionary, educator and leader. He is known and respected all across the United States. He is our neighbor here in DeKalb.
On a personal note, putting this in the category of ‘It’s a small world’. About five years ago, my daughter who is a sophomore at the University of Georgia called and said her new roommate grandfather was a school superintendent. I said, “which county”. It just so happens that his grand daughter and my grand daughter were roommates. His grand daughter is now a second year law student at Georgia State.
Dr. J Alvin Wilbank …. third year … third year law student at Georgia State. Dr. Wilbanks was named chief executive officer and Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools in 1996. At that time, he was serving as the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources and continuous improvement and also as President of Gwinnett Technical College, which he opened as President in 1984.
He began his educational career here in DeKalb County. He’s one of our own. Give him a hand. Mr. Wilbanks came to Gwinnett from the Georgia Department of Education Industrial Development unit. He has traveled extensively abroad promoting technical vocational education. He also was employed as a teacher and administrator in DeKalb County for a number of years. Since 2002, the Georgia Governance and the United States Secretary of Education have called on his expertise for significant education reform legislation at the state and federal levels.
Mr. Wilbanks served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Georgia Teacher Retirement system and was elected the first chairman of the Georgia Education Coalition born in 2006 to give school districts a unified voice in the state’s legislature in funding an educational policy issues. Under Mr. Wilbanks leadership, Gwinnett county public schools has earned a reputation as one of the most successful school districts in the country. The Board Foundation [Broad Foundation] selected Gwinnett County Public Schools as one of the 5 finalists for one of the highly prestigious award for urban education for two years in a row, ’09 and 2010. Comprised honors urban school district making the greatest progress nationwide in raising student achievement and reducing the achievement gaps among ethnic groups and between low and non-low income students.
Gwinnett County is the largest educational award in the country. In October 2010, Gwinnett County Public Schools was named the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, distinguishing Gwinnett County Public Schools as the best urban school district in America.
Mr. Wilbanks has won numerous national honors and awards for his professional accomplishments and civic contributions. He was named the 2005 Georgia Superintendent of the year. And one of the 4 finalists of 2005 national Superintendents of the Year. The Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce awarded him his highest honor. In 2005, as a citizen of the year in Gwinnett and the Boy-scouts of American presented him with the Distinguished Citizens Award in 2008. Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful awarded him its highest honor, the environmental legacy award in 2012.
Mr. Wilbanks is a leader in many civil organizations including the Gwinnett County Board of Public Health, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Lawrenceville Rotary Club, the American Cancer Society, the Northeast council of Boy-Scouts of America and the Council For Quality Growth. He is a graduate of the first class of Leadership Gwinnett.
Superintendent Wilbanks earned his bachelors and masters degree in education from the University of Georgia, Go Dawgs. His education specialist degree from Georgia State University, Go Panthers. He is a member of several professional organizations and is a leader in his church. He and his wife have two daughters and five grandchildren.
Gwinnett County has within its midst one of the great educational leaders, not just currently, but in the history of Georgia education. DeKalb, please rise and welcome this outstanding man who has come to spend time with us today, Dr. Alvin Wilbanks.
Dr. Alvin Wilbanks
I love to hear introductions that people give, thank you for that. It is true that we have known each other for a number of years and I have the utmost respect for your Superintendent. As a matter of fact, Maureen Downey called me the day you was named. I didn’t know it until Maureen called me and asked me what I thought. I said I don’t know but one Michael Thurmond, but if it’s the one I know, that’s great. She said, why would you say that. I said, you may recall he was in the legislature. He also ran one of the toughest state agencies there is to run, DFCS. He obviously was the Commissioner of Labor, an award winning labor department of the nation. I said DeKalb County Schools will be in good hands. I can say that today and have enjoyed working with him.
It has me labeled as a distinguished speaker. I obviously know that I will be leaving here in a few minutes and that’s all to know avail. You go back home and you’ve got all that work to do. I didn’t even bring an attache’ case today because I’m not sure if it’s 50 miles here anyway. So, there’s no need for me to carry an attache’ case to help that expert status. It’s gotta be over 50 miles. You have to have an attache’ case. Well, I said it’s not over 50 miles, forget the attache’ case. I just have a portfolio I brought my notes in.
I know you all are not going to believe this next statement, but it’s true. That’s a bad way to start a statement off. You’re just not going to believe it. Cause I know, when you look at me, you’ll say it just couldn’t be. 50 years ago I reported to Briarcliff High School for new teacher orientation DeKalb County Public Schools. Arrived at Briarcliff that morning. I had come the day before and found out where it was. I had never been on LaVista or Briarcliff road in my life. Coming down 85, I’d seen it. So, I ride by to make sure I knew where to go and how long it would take me.
The traffic then wasn’t as bad as it is now. However, there were no parking spaces. So, I drive down the street and it was near time to start. I didn’t want to be late. I felt lucky that they hired me. I didn’t see any parking spaces. But, there was this neighborhood. And there was a gentlemen out washing his car. I told him what I was doing and he said, yeah, pull in right here. He said, by the way, your car needs washing. Want me to wash your car? You said you’re a teacher aren’t ya? I said, yes. I may wash your car, but I won’t promise. So, when I got back he washed by car. So, it started off on a good note.
I say that to say, that I owe a lot to a lot of people in my career. Two of the best things that ever happened to me. I always worked for good people. I’ve always worked with good people. Those are two outstanding things to a person’s ???. In DeKalb County Schools, we used to have a leadership workshop. Jim Cherry was Superintendent. Very dynamic superintendent. Not
Michael is, but I’m not. He was one of the Superintendents that you liked or didn’t like. Fortunately most people liked him. He was a great Superintendent. He ensured that DeKalb prepared for what it needed to be.
So, we had those workshops. They were week long, five days. Not four, but five. Ours is what, two and a half. But, for five days you got the things that Mr. Cherry and others felt you needed to get. I’ll never forget my first few years in DeKalb and I’ll get off of this and on to my comments. But, I did want to make this connection with you because I feel honored to be with you today.
In those workshop times, we learned a lot of things about management. About a lot of things about leadership. And for this ol’ county boy, I learned everything I knew about management and leadership in DeKalb County Schools. I say it all the time and I’ll say it here with you.
I’ll never forget when I reported at Tucker High School. First of all, this is audience participation time. Just a quick hand up. If you know of these people or work with them. Mr. Bill Armsted was assistant principal at Tucker … yeah, a few. Harold Turpin was a principal. Rene Halford … yeah, there are some hands. And just on and on. I don’t know, I’d been there a couple of years, and I got a call from Anita Shadburn. Somebody’s gotta remember Ms Shadburn. Melvin, you don’t remember Ms Shadburn … yeah? OK. What happened, she cleaned his plate one day. He wasn’t going to admit that. She could do that … in a professional type way.
Anyway, Ms. Shadburn called on my and wanted me to do some curriculum writing. First of all, I didn’t feel qualified. I found out she didn’t have anybody else in my area, so I spent the Summer writing curriculum. Attended like a two or three day meeting to find out what we were supposed to do or whatever. The thing I missed was, she gave us a packet. I did that and turned it in. You’d have to turn them in and they’d check ’em. So, when I finished … turned all my work in … I get a call from Nava Harris. Ms Harris called and said Mr. Wilbanks, you haven’t finished your work. I thinking, good gracious, what did I lack. She said you didn’t do your timesheet. Now, I know what a timesheet was and I even knew what a timesheet was then. But, I was putting that into context of curriculum. So I couldn’t figure out what in the world timesheet was. She said you’ve gotta get paid and we can’t pay you unless you have a timesheet.
First of all, I didn’t know I was getting paid. I didn’t. I just thought I was supposed to do it. So, she figured out a way to get that done. I’ll never forget that. I used that to say, I think that’s the history of the school district. It takes care of its people. Good organizations take care of its people. So, what she did, she got all the other people and there were a bunch of people cause there were major curriculum development going on at that time. And, they sorta got a number that other people had done. Ms. Harris said, would you go by Tucker High School. We’re going to courier it out there and sign that. If you have any questions about it, let me know.
When I saw that, I was so happy I didn’t know what it said. I just signed it. I got more money than I had ever had in my life up to that time. It just goes to show when you’re with a great organization, they help you and they help you grow. They understand some things, of course it’s a little different with the accountability and the expectations are much higher. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that organizations like this one have a long history of dealing with its people for whatever I’m worth. You may not be proud to claim me, but I just know how I was developed and grew as a member of the school district. Mr. Superintendent, I just wanted to say that today to make a connection with my experience with this school system and I was here about 17 years.
How many of you were not born in 1964? Raise your hand. Wow! You just heard an ancient story. It’s probably good we are on stage here today because maybe there’s something about it that will inspire you.
They gave me a clicker, pointer here. It’s got a button on it and I’m not sure if I’m going forward or backward, but we’ll try and get ’em right. First of all, I understand you all are sort of operating under a theme of David and Goliath. Thanks for the book. I had not read that book before. I had read Gladwell’s Outliers. I’ve heard him talk, I’ve heard him talk about the David and Goliath book. No matter what rumors you may hear, but I do go to church. I actually teach sunday school and have taught sunday shcool for over 40 years. I’m a self proclaimed old testament expert. So, I read the story of David and Goliath. I could recant it verbatim. But reading that book, I had never actually thought about that in that light. It’s powerful.
So, I said let me see if I can bring that in with the comments I want to make today. I’ll try and do that. Obviously that story is well known. The record of that is such that anybody that has ever been in church or Sunday School knows it. I dare say there are probably a lot of people like myself that hadn’t quite made that connection. I’m doing that in the context of the theme this morning … Improving Growth and Achievement. A David for Every Goliath. Let’s see if we can pick some of the David and Goliaths out there. I’ll ask the question and then I’ll answer it … how’s that. I noticed about the third time of audience participation it waned a little. Seriously.
How many K-12 students in the nation? About 50.1 million. There will be going to school … there are about 100,000 schools in the country. Now if you look on the educational statistics, the US Department of Education, many of those are actual 2 or 3 years back. So, they estimate for about 2 or 3 years depending on the data point. There are also about 3.7 million teachers. Of that 3.7 million, 3.4 million are public school teachers. The others are private or parochial schools. There are about 14,000 school districts in the country. You all are in one of the largest school districts in the country. If you take the school districts that have enrollments above 90,000, about a quarter of the students attend those school districts. The average size school district is about 3,500 students. So you’re one of the big boys so to speak.
Should that make us a Goliath? In some ways maybe, but I say not. For a lot of different reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that educators, listen to this closely, if you don’t hear anything else I say, listen at this one. Educators for the most part could not agree to leave a burning room. Somebody would object. Somebody would have a better route. So, that sorta lessens our numbers sometimes. I don’t know if that’s all bad. I think certainly we are all proud of the fact that we do have some local control. We are all proud of the fact that there are a few things we can make some decisions on. But, we are the Goliath in this story.
Let’s take the other side, and first of all I’m not here today to paint anybody in a bad light. If you’ve picked up a paper lately … have you seen more pro education articles or more negative education articles? Which One … negative. It’s a steady diet. It’s not about reporting the news, many times, it’s about making news. Something happens and you make the story sensational or whatever. Those are the things that we are confronted with. And then there are the policy makers, the legislators that just simply know best. They make these rules and regulations and you almost have to get a dictionary to trace back, is this pertaining to education?
We also have a number of people out there … the worse your kid looks, the better mine looks. The worse yours looks, the better mine looks. Folks, I’m saying that’s the Goliath that we face.
And we ain’t even gotten into what the real challenge of what education is about. And that is educating every child to the highest level possible. And that’s sort of what I want to do today.
So, how do we have, Mr. Superintendent, a David for every Goliath. I’m saying there’s a story in that. I may not have it right, you may not agree with it and that’s OK. I’ll be gone in 2 hours. Superintendent Thurmond said, take whatever time you want, we’re leaving in an hour. I haven’t yet got bad off enough to talk enough to cease. So, I’ll be done.
We look at some things. I want to give you two frameworks that I believe will help make us all Davids against a huge giant out there. And you know over 3,000 years ago, whenever that battle on the Philistine battlefield took place, David and Goliath have really represented in modern times the under dog against Goliath. That’s the analogy.
What you see here [in the slide show] is a reform governance framework. I’m not promotin’ this framework. I’m just saying that the framework is a set of beliefs that allow you to accomplish your goals in a manner that you couldn’t do otherwise. Whether it’s this one or another one. By the way, that’s the last time you’ll see that one from me. I just wanted to show that deals with governance. Very important and I want to commend you all for really the work that has gone on here the past year to year and a half.
Then, the next one is this, the PELP Coherence Framework. There’s a story behind that I want to show you. First of all I was really pleased when you all brought a team of people last year up to the PELP institute. PELP is Public Education Leadership Project. Let me tell you about that. First of all this is audience participation, but ???. How many reform initiatives and efforts have we had in education in these United States of America since 1990? I can’t count that high. We’ve had a lot of them. Those reform initiatives has taken on various in sundry forms.
First of all, audience I really need everybody participating in this one, I’m assuming most of you aren’t teachers today in name and title. But are there any teachers in the audience? OK … good. I really got to ask the foller’ up question, are you really a teacher in the classroom … If I’m not a teacher up here today, I’m really wasting my time and your time. But you all are really teachers in the classroom, ok. Most of the critics like you. Notice I said most, not everybody. But the rest of us, most of the critics see absolutely no need for you. Has that ever occurred to you? Because all the focus of the reforms have been at the school level. None of them prior to 2003 had even remotely considered the district office. None of them.
Bill Gates funded the small school Stategy, a theory of change. $2 billion dollars. 5 years later, what was the announcement about it? By the way, it was made in Europe. It has no affect. Emanuel High School in Denver Colorader’, old school. Many of the people attended there when the power structure