Work Session Business Meeting March 18, 2021, School Board Work Session Stream:
To view the recorded Work Session, please click on the meeting link.
March 18, 2021, School Board Business Meeting Stream:
To view the recorded Business Meeting, please click on the meeting link.
The following are highlights of the March 18, 2021, meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Education (BOE). Board members present included Chairman Everton Blair, Jr., Vice Chairman Karen Watkins, Steven B. Knudsen, Dr. Mary Kay Murphy, and Dr. Tarece Johnson. The official minutes of the meeting will be approved by the Board at its next monthly meeting.
Board salutes award-winning students
Board members congratulated North Gwinnett High School’s Boys Swim and Dive Team on the team’s repeat as AAAAAAA state champs. The team won this year’s title on February 6, 2021, at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. Principal Nathan Ballantine introduced the team and its coaches, a group that brought home its second consecutive title in this unique and challenging season. In congratulating the team, he introduced Head Coach Paul Callis who has been a teacher and coach for 26 years. During this time, Coach Callis has consistently created effective and engaging lessons in the classroom while also developing strong athletic programs. During his remarks, Coach Callis shared his team’s pride in representing their school and GCPS in competition. In addition to excelling in their sport, team members are leaders in the classroom as evidenced by their 3.66 GPA this year. In closing, Coach Callis thanked the Board for allowing student-athletes to compete this year.
The Board also honored Grayson High School’s Football Team on winning the 2020 AAAAAAA state championship. The team won this, its third state championship, by defeating Collins Hill High School’s team, with a final score of 38-14 in an all-Gwinnett state final. Dr. Dana Pugh, principal, thanked the Board for their leadership in allowing these student athletes to play the sport they love during this pandemic. He said, “Having football was a positive thing for our community. It gave us all something to cheer for.” In addition to recognizing the football team, he saluted the cheerleaders, band members, and others who were a part of this championship season. He also acknowledged the collective efforts of district leaders who provided guidance and support during this season. In his remarks, Head Coach Adam Carter echoed the appreciation expressed by others, thanking the Board for providing for the opportunity to play this year. In introducing the team, he reviewed their season which resulted in a 14-0 record, a state title, recognition as the #2 team-public school in the country, and 25 scholarship-earning players.
The Gwinnett School Board commended 38 high school students on their 1st and 2nd place wins at the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) State Career Development Conference, which was held in January 2021. DECA is an international association of middle school, high school, and college students that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. Through DECA, Gwinnett County Public Schools’ students have the opportunity to participate in leadership development activities and compete in a variety of events on an international level. Click here for the list of award-winning students who hail from eight Gwinnett high schools. These students will represent both Georgia DECA and Gwinnett County Public Schools at the virtual International Career Development Conference in April of this year.
Berkmar Cluster presents update to the BOE
The Board of Education wishes to hear from constituents regarding what they believe to be the accomplishments, challenges, and aspirations for their cluster schools. As part of this effort, each Monthly Business Meeting of the Board includes a presentation from a cluster in one Board member's electoral district. The Berkmar Cluster, which includes schools in District IV and V, was featured at tonight’s meeting. Berkmar High School Principal Durrant Williams provided a brief introduction for the cluster’s presentation, which included remarks from a parent, a teacher, and a student. As part of the introduction, representatives from the cluster’s seven feeder schools— Bethesda, Corley, Hopkins, Kanoheda, and Minor elementary schools and Berkmar and Sweetwater middle schools— were introduced. Primary themes emphasized throughout the speakers’ remarks included:
- A cluster culture that brings together people from many backgrounds, unifying them as Patriots…Start as a Patriot, Finish as a Patriot;
- Unique curricular opportunities, including an innovative construction program, the rollout of a one-of-a-kind film program, guitar classes, and the Dual Language Immersion Program;
- Collaboration among teachers within schools and across school levels that involves supporting each other, connecting with students, and creating caring classrooms where students thrive;
- An ongoing commitment to students and their learning that has resulted in various recognitions, grants, and countless awards won by schools in the cluster; and
- A family community that is invested in each other and schools where parents work side-by-side with teachers to support students.
School Board votes to transition leadership of the district
Members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted 3-2 to transition the leadership of the school district from CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to a successor in preparation for the 2021-22 school year. In announcing that Mr. Wilbanks’ tenure as superintendent will end July 31, 2021, the Board provided more than the 90-days’ notice stipulated in the superintendent’s contract. Over the next four months, the Gwinnett School Board will conduct a superintendent search and Mr. Wilbanks will prepare for the transition. In accordance with Article III Subsection E of the contract, the Board will pay Mr. Wilbanks severance pay in the sum of either all of the aggregate salary he would have earned under the contract from his actual last day to the end of the contract or a sum equivalent to one year’s annual salary, whichever is less.
Board reviews district’s plans to return to in-person learning for 2021-22
During the afternoon Board of Education work session, Dr. Al Taylor, interim associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, shared that the school district plans to return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year. This decision takes into account students’ academic and social-emotional needs, the improving pandemic conditions (lower rates of infection), the availability of vaccinations for teachers and other school staff, and guidance from health experts and organizations. Plans for the fall reflect the district’s commitment to safety for its students and staff, with continued mitigation efforts such as the wearing of masks, provision of PPE, and strict cleaning regimens. GCPS will continue to rely on guidance from the CDC and other health partners in developing plans for the return to in-person learning in the fall. While it is expected that most students will return to learning in classrooms next year, families will have the option of opting out of in-person learning with their child continuing in a modified digital setting. This modified version—which will have digital students learning from digital teachers, some of whom may be at a different location or through Gwinnett Online Campus—is intended to eliminate the need for teachers to teach concurrently. Information will be sent to families on Monday, March 22, with information about these plans. Only those families that wish to opt out of in-person learning for their students will need to complete the online form in the Parent Portal. All other students will be registered for in-person learning for the fall, the default option. The deadline to submit the opt-out form will be Sunday, April 4, at 11:59 p.m.
Appointment approved to the Gwinnett Retirement System administrative committee
The Board of Education approved the appointments of Rick Cost, part-time executive director of Treasury Services, and Dr. Al Taylor, interim associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, to fill two open positions on the GRS Administrative Committee. The Gwinnett Retirement System is directed by a nine-person committee. The Chief Financial Officer and the Associate Superintendent for the Division of Human Resources and Talent Management serve as permanent members of the committee. The other seven members serve seven-year rotating terms. The committee consists of three teachers, one local school administrator, one classified employee, one retiree, and one position of any classification covered by the GRS plan. Mr. Cost fills the retiree position and Dr. Taylor fills the classified employee position.
Board receives update on investments and financial information
Chief Financial Officer Joe Heffron shared an annual Investment Oversight Committee report with the Board as required by Board Policy DFL. The six-member committee comprised of four GCPS staff members and two investment community members meets quarterly to review investment transactions, compliance with existing policy and procedures, and compliance with Georgia Code. The committee noted that for 2020, the district engaged in a proactive investment strategy, resulting in an annual yield higher than investing solely in Georgia Fund I. They noted that all transactions were in compliance with existing Board policy and procedures and Georgia Code. The investment portfolio also met all policy standards for diversification by instrument, maturity, and financial institution. Mr. Heffron also presented Board members with the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This report is prepared each year in accordance with standards set by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). It includes detailed financial information for the most recently completed fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2020. This annual report has been audited by the school district's external auditors, Mauldin and Jenkins.
School Board receives update on civic engagement and Black History Month activities in the district
Gwinnett County Public Schools is preparing students to see themselves in the history of our country. Through instruction guided by our Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) curriculum and events like Black History Month, our students have the opportunity to learn about the role many people had in creating our country. Dr. Jeremy Nix, director of Social Studies for grades K-5, and Kathy Sanchez, director of Social Studies for grades 6-12, provided an overview of the special month-long observations conducted in our schools, noting that teaching about contributions of African Americans who have influenced and made an impact in the United States and around the world is not limited to this one month but is embedded in the curriculum throughout the year. Examples of activities included guest speakers, virtual assemblies, virtual fieldtrips, essay contests, spirit weeks, and advisement lessons. Duluth High School students Jordan Little and Yasha Joseph addressed the Board, sharing details about their school’s celebration, which included a student-led assembly that was held virtually this year. The presentation on Black History Month activities also featured a video of Autumn Walker, a Grayson Elementary student, portraying Katherine Johnson, an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S.-crewed spaceflights.
School Board continues review of policies
The Board of Education approved the following proposed policy changes that have been tabled since last month’s business meeting to allow for public input:
Policy JCE – Student Complaints and Grievances—Changes approved are in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy JCAC – Sexual Harassment—Changes approved are in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
The following proposed policy which was tabled at last month’s meeting will remain on the table until the April meeting:
Policy BCBI – Public Participation in Board Meetings— This policy had been placed on the table at the February meeting. Since then, updates to the recommended policy have been made that take into account feedback that has been received through the public input process. As a result, this policy will remain on the table until the April meeting.
The Board of Education placed the following proposed policy changes on the table until next month’s business meeting to allow for public input:
Policy ABB - Board Powers and Duties/Members’ Legal Status—Proposed changes have been made in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy ABCA - Number of Board Members/Terms of Office—Proposed changes are in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy BA - Board Goals and Objectives—Proposed changes are in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy BBABA - Duties of Board Officers—Changes have been proposed in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy BBBB - New Board Member Orientation—Changes have been proposed in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Policy BCAB - School Board Meetings—Proposed changes are in accordance with policy guidance and/or mandates in state and/or federal law.
Board adopts bond resolution associated with GO Bonds, Series 2021
The Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a Bond Resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of the Gwinnett County Public Schools General Obligation (GO) Bonds, Series 2021. On November 18, 2018, the citizens of Gwinnett County approved the issuance of GO Bonds, not to exceed the principal amount of $350 million. In February 2019, the district issued $173,355,000 of the approved amount. The district is seeking to issue $120,000,000 in this next issuance, leaving $56,645,000 authorized, but unissued. In related bond news, the school district recently received good news as both Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Moody’s Investors Services assigned the highest level AAA/Aaa rating to the district’s Series 2021 GO Bonds. At the same time, both agencies affirmed their triple-A long-term rating on the district’s outstanding GO debt. GCPS is one of three Georgia school districts that has attained the triple-A bond rating from both Moody’s and S&P. Only 20 school districts nationwide have earned this fiscal stamp of approval from both bond rating agencies with the three school districts in Georgia being the only ones from the Southeast.
Board grants one-year extension to charter school
Board members approved a one-year extension of North Metro Academy of Performing Arts’ charter petition. The extension will carry the school through June 30, 2022.
BOE members acknowledged for their service
The week of March 15-19, 2021, is the week set aside for acknowledging the service of school board members in Georgia. On behalf of the students, parents, employees, and citizen stakeholders of Gwinnett County Public Schools, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks recognized the five members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education for their service.
Board members approved to participate in GSBA summer conference, assembly
The Board of Education designated Dr. Mary Kay Murphy and Dr. Tarece Johnson as its representatives to the Georgia School Boards Association’s 2021 Summer Conference and Delegate Assembly in Savannah on June 10-12, 2021. On June 11, the 2021 Delegate Assembly will be held (either virtually or in person). The Gwinnett County Board of Education approved Dr. Murphy to serve as its voting delegate at this year’s assembly with Dr. Johnson serving as the alternate.
Citizens addressing the Board
- Michael Rudnick
- Sherie Green
- Katie Nelson
- Hana Martin
- Amber Karasik
- Robert Lynch
- Hannah Ibrahim
- Vonetta Bramwell
- Stephanie Hastings
- Brian Westlake
- Wendy Lynch
- Aisha Dukuly
- Gabrielle Lorentz
- Rakshna Anithadevi Sivakumar
- Zahra Farooqi
- Gregory Moses
- Braulio Maduro Salvarrey
- Ryan Cox
- Samad Hakani
- Majayla Cody
- Penny Poole
- Holly Terei
- Cathy Loew
- Madeline Mitchell
- Sheri Mitchell
- Steve Gasper
- Destani Fountain