Gwinnett BOE votes to oust longtime superintendent a year before contract ends

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — The Gwinnett County School Board decided Thursday night to oust their longtime school superintendent.

Critics say it’s time for new leadership after J. Alvin Wilbanks’ 25-year run.

Wilbanks told Channel 2′s Tony Thomas that the move was not surprising. Thomas said Wilbanks sat quietly as the vote was taken, inside the very headquarters named in his honor.

“You could see this coming?” Thomas asked Wilbanks.

“Yeah, I could. But it’s something I’m at peace with,” Wilbanks said.

The Gwinnett school board’s three newest members, including board chair Everton Blair, made the move to oust Wilbanks one year before his contract ends.

The district will still pay Wilbanks’ salary for the next year.

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“Why now and not at the end of his contract?” Thomas asked Blair.

“Now is the time for our board to move forward,” Blair said.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” board member Karen Watkins said.

Wilbanks has led the state’s largest district for 25 years. He had said he would retire when his contract ran out in July 2022. Supporters call the vote rushed.

“This is absurd, shame on you,” Wilbanks supporter Holly Terei told the board.

“You have handicapped this system,” Michael Rudnick said.

The two board members who voted against the firing called the move premature.

“This is a detrimental change,” board member Mary Kay Murphy said.

“I don’t believe it’s a wise use of our money,” said board member Steven Knudsen.

But the majority board members insisted that giving Wilbanks 90-days’ notice will now give them plenty of time to find a replacement before the beginning of school in the fall.

Wilbanks has faced criticism for his early opening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and for what some see as racial inequalities in the district.

“I hope our community can embrace different leadership,” Watkins said.

“The changes we are making are in the best interests of our school district,” board member Terece Johnson said.

“I’m not going to be looking for another job,” Wilbanks told Thomas.

Willbanks said if the board can’t find a replacement in time, he’d be willing to stay on if needed. He said he holds no hard feelings.