ACT results surpass state, national avgs

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
The ACT is an exam used by colleges and universities to predict how well students will perform at the post-secondary level. Students are encouraged to take the ACT, as well as the SAT, to provide a broad range of information for college admissions counselors.

The ACT is an exam used by colleges and universities to predict how well students will perform at the post-secondary level. Students are encouraged to take the ACT, as well as the SAT, to provide a broad range of information for college admissions counselors.

Recent high school graduates in Georgia have improved the state’s results on the ACT, but the state is below the national average in score and ranking.

In Gwinnett County Public Schools, students surpassed state and national averages with a composite score of 21.9 out of a scale of one to 36.

The number of Georgia high school students taking the ACT has increased by 29 percent since 2010, with a total of 50,697 students taking the test in 2014. Ninety-one percent of this year’s ACT-tested graduates aspired to post-secondary education.

In addition, the number of participating GCPS students increased from 4,369 in 2013 to 4,597 in 2014.

Gwinnett welcomes 800 educators

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

New Teachers

DULUTH — Celeste Strohl has worked in education long enough to know the back-to-school feeling, first as a teacher and then as a central office employee.

Yet this summer, Strohl is getting re-certified in Reading Recovery 20 years after she was in the first class offered in Gwinnett. While she retired from Gwinnett County Public Schools’ federal and special programs department, she never left education.

For the last four years, Strohl has tutored students at Stripling Elementary in Norcross. But to start this school year, she will work part-time as a Reading Recovery teacher at Stripling as the district added about 40 of those positions in its latest budget.

“I have never been so excited and so energized about the opportunity to work with children again,” Strohl said. “It’s just having a chance to make a difference in children’s lives. Having worked as a teacher and in the central office, I know that the most important interaction in Gwinnett County goes on in the classroom between the teacher and the child.”

That feeling played out on the stage and in several ballrooms at the Gwinnett Center on Tuesday as more than 800 teachers began their career or their first year in Gwinnett at the annual orientation event. The district has hired 847 new teachers and re-hired 424 teachers who started after the first day of school last year. It also re-hired 84 retirees, and counts 38 teaching vacancies remaining, district spokesman Jorge Quintana said.

New GCPS Teachers

Back to School 2014

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Stripling ES
Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS), the largest school system in Georgia, will welcome approximately 3,200 new students to its classrooms in 2014, bringing the system’s total student enrollment to more than 172,000 students. Two new schools brings total number of facilities to 134.

With the opening of these two new schools, the school district will operate 77 elementary schools, 27 middle schools, 19 high schools, five charter schools, and six special

10,854 graduates – 84% heading to college

Thursday, June 12th, 2014


After 13 years of hard work during their K-12 academic careers, close to 11,000 students will earn their high school diploma from Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) this week.

The 10,854 high school seniors will walk across the stage this week as the school district congratulates the Class of 2014, the largest and most decorated to date. “This has been a great year in GCPS and we are very proud of the Class of 2014,” says CEO/Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks. “Their success in the classroom and in extracurricular activities is notable and has earned them more than $148 million in scholarships— the most ever earned by a class. I am proud of the firm academic foundation these students received in our schools and know that this will serve them well into the future.”

The senior report for the Class of 2014 shows that: 84% of the students graduating this year report that they plan to continue their education by attending college or postsecondary schools. The vast majority, or 84% of them, plan to attend college in Georgia.

• The seniors who plan to continue their education have been offered, as of April of 2014, more than $148 million in academic, athletic, and military scholarships.

• The majority of the scholarship amount, more than $90.5 million, was earned for academic achievement. Gwinnett students also received $52.7 million in athletic scholarships, and $5 million due to military appointments. The monetary awards do not include HOPE, the QuestBridge Scholarship recipients, or the Gates Millennium Scholars.

• As of May of 2014, 19 Gwinnett seniors earned a full scholarship through the QuestBridge College Match Program. Nine of the seniors are Berkmar High graduates. (*QuestBridge has named additional winners and this number will be updated once the information has been verified.)

• 15 Gwinnett students, including three from Meadowcreek High and a second group of three seniors from Norcross High, will have their college career paid in full as Gates Millennium Scholars.

• 14 students received military appointments.

Two Shiloh Friends Win Prestigious Scholarships

Monday, June 2nd, 2014
Shiloh Grads

2014 Shiloh graduates Justin Willis and Brandon Johnson.

After they graduate from Shiloh High School tonight, Justin Willis and Brandon Johnson will no longer share the same campus. Justin is going to Brown in Rhode Island and Brandon will be at Rollins in Orlando. The two friends have both received highly competitive scholarships and have exciting futures ahead of them.

Justin Willis is a QuestBridge Scholar. These scholarships are given by QuestBridge member schools. Justin knows, “The odds of winning Questbridge are really small.” Last December, Justin found out he’d beaten those odds. His mom Lavettra says of the award, “I cried. Since he was in elementary school, I’ve been praying for it. It was an answered prayer. I knew my prayers had not gone on deaf ears.”

Brandon Johnson learned about his own scholarship in April. Brandon is a Gates Millennium Scholar, an award funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  He’ll be studying computer engineering at Rollins.

Patrick Johnson, Brandon’s dad, grins when asked about his reaction to Brandon’s scholarship.  “Guys don’t cry,” Patrick says, then laughs, “Yes, I do!” Patrick and his wife Noelle were driving home when they saw a large envelope in the mailbox. “My wife jumps out of the car, rips it open, and reads ‘Congratulations’ across the top,” says Patrick. “We were screaming and crying. We went nuts. Because we know what it means for him.”

The two managed to keep the surprise a secret until Brandon got home. Then more rejoicing, followed by a night out. “We’re at a Chinese restaurant,” Patrick remembers, “and Brandon’s not eating anything.” Brandon admits, “I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t thoroughly express myself.”

Originally from New York, the Johnsons have enjoyed living in Snellville. Brandon says, “There are so many opportunities here.” He remembers the first extra-curricular activity his parents enrolled him in – swim team. A bold choice, considering Brandon did not know how to swim. “It was a 25-meter pool and the instructor lines us up to do a lap. I jump in and just sink to the bottom.” Brandon is now head lifeguard at that same pool. He will be working there this summer, while Justin works at Kroger.

Justin got a visit at work after he received his QuestBridge award. His family had become friends with the Johnsons during the scholarship application process, so Patrick showed up at Kroger congratulating him, “Justin! You got it!” Not long afterward, Justin learned he got into Brown, and both families rejoiced.

Among Ivy League schools, Brown University is known as being more laid-back. “It has what’s called open curriculum,” explains Justin, “as there’s no specific course requirements for each degree.  Since each student maps his own path, there is much more collaboration and less competition.”  This should be a great environment for Justin to study business administration. He’d like to be a business executive in a large southern city after he graduates.

Justin looks forward to the communal nature of Brown, which is similar to Snellville.  He cites events like Snellville Days, saying “Snellville values community and that’s important to me.”

No word yet on whether these friends plan to collaborate someday on a computer-related business venture.  For now they go their separate ways with a degree in hand and a loving support system around them.

Four former Mason Elementary students all accepted by Harvard

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Former Mason Elementary students, from left, Sam Weyen, of Greater Atlanta Christian, Alex Peed, of Peachtree Ridge High, Willie Jin of the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology and Leesa Quinlan of Peachtree Ridge recently posed for a picture at the school. All four were accepted to Harvard University, and Peed, Quinlan and Jin plan to attend Harvard, while Weyen plans to attend Stanford University. (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

DULUTH — They dressed up as Greek gods, memorized songs by the Beatles and built a replica of the International Space Station — all before middle school.

For a group of four students who began their school careers at Mason Elementary, learning was fun and they enjoyed coming to school. While they’ve moved on to different schools, and won’t all attend the same university, they have one thing in common again: All four were accepted to Harvard University.

Three of them, Leesa Quinlan, Willie Jin and Alex Peed plan to enroll at Harvard this fall, while Sam Weyen chose to attend Stanford University. Weyen, the valedictorian at Greater Atlanta Christian, first met Quinlan and Peed, who each graduated from Peachtree Ridge High, and Jin, the valedictorian at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology, in the Focus program for gifted students at Mason.

While his pros and cons list leaned toward Harvard, Weyen said he couldn’t keep himself from researching and asking about Stanford, which eventually settled his conscience.

“So that right there proved to me that’s where I want to go,” said Weyen, who plans to visit his buddies at Harvard. “That was one of my big selling points, I wanted to be with these people again.”

They were all taught by Abby Lockhart, who has taught gifted students for 14 years and been a teacher overall for 37 years. She saw enough in this quartet and their classmates to start algebra in the third grade and order the Charles Dickens classic “Great Expectations” for their fifth-grade year.

“I read it in eighth grade,” Lockhart said, “but I figured these were such fantastic minds, that they could read it.”

The group as a whole was very inquisitive.

“They were all very determined to learn all they could,” Lockhart said. “They always wanted to know why. They say gifted kids ask why, regular students just answer the question. … I never gave them anything they couldn’t do. They always wanted more and I think that’s the mark of an academically-gifted person.”

If, for one reason, there wasn’t Focus class that day, Lockhart said the students would maneuver her schedule to accomodate.

“You don’t need to eat lunch,” she recalled them saying. “You need to teach us.”

Trying to shape them as global students, Lockhart said she tried to expose them to many subjects so they would know a little something about everything. While she’s hesistant to take credit, Lockhart said she’s proud of their accomplishments, and students like them, “make you want to be a teacher.”

“We were really, by the end, friends,” she said.

While the four students have college acceptance in common, their entire gifted class was above average, and others plan to attend Duke University and Georgia Tech.

“There is a major sense of respect for everybody because you’ve seen what they can do and what they’re capable of,” Quinlan said. “This is a very special group of people.”

It was in Lockhart’s class that Weyen was first introduced to poetry, and he’s come to enjoy writing. And Weyen added that teachers like Lockhart made him want to do everything, not just one thing.

What set the four apart was their willingness to try anything, and being super-competitive.

Yet other students in the class chose a subject, from World War II history to building a candy bar company, that became their focus. Group projects also developed friendships.

“The whole group was so gifted,” Quinlan said. “But some people chose to focus their effort into a particular passion. We didn’t limit ourselves to any one particular area. We were able to try everything and be good at everything.”

While Peed has chosen to study economics and finance with hopes to enter the investment industry, the others are undecided about their majors and careers. Weyen could see himself working on the television show “MythBusters” or hosting the “Tonight Show,” while Quinlan plans to become a lawyer — if they don’t become President of the United States.

Jin, the others agree, could be the next Steve Jobs, unless he serves in their White House cabinet.

Whatever they choose, at least three of them may end up studying right next to each other, just like they did 13 years ago.

“It’s so great to know people going to the same school as you, not to know their name, or know they went to the same school as you, but to actually know them and to be in school with them for so long and know you have another four years together,” Quinlan said.

16 Gwinnett Grads Earn Foundation Scholarships

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Collins-Hill-graduationGWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Every year, the Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation Fund awards scholarships to exemplary high school seniors.

Sixteen members of Gwinnett’s Class of 2014 took home nine scholarships, including:

Alton C. Crews Teaching Scholarship
* Corey Crain Gray Jr., Central Gwinnett HS
* Jonathan Peraza, Meadowcreek HS
* Peter Mark Schlueter, Mountain View HS
This $1,500 scholarship is awarded to students pursuing careers in education. It is funded in memory of former superintendent Dr. Alton Crews, who headed up GCPS from 1977 to1989.

GCPS Foundation STEM Scholarship
* Mark P. Lougee, Peachtree Ridge HS
* Lindsey Thrift, Brookwood HS
This $1,000 scholarship is given to students who plan to study STEM subjects in college. To earn it, a graduate must excel in the classroom and perform community service.

Susan D. Headley Scholarship
* Stephen B. Jenkins, Mountain View HS
This $1,000 scholarship honors students who exhibit good character and a love of learning. It is named for a former Gwinnett County teacher.

King Memorial Mathematics Scholarship
* Lovette Chinyere Ekwebelem, Dacula HS
This $1,000 scholarship is given to students who prove financial need and plan to study math in college. It was created in honor of Dr. William King, GCPS’s coordinator of mathematics in the 1980′s.

Jim Maran Scholarship for STEM Studies
* Olivia Chong, Brookwood HS
This $2,000 scholarship is awarded to exemplary students who exhibit leadership, earn high grades and serve their communities. Recipients must be planning to major in STEM subjects in college.

Robbie Susan Moore Scholarship
* Abril Castro, Peachtree Ridge HS
* Briunna Lemons, Mill Creek HS
* Nicholas Na, Brookwood HS
This $1,000 scholarship is given to minority students who have served their communities and plan to continue their educations. It is sponsored by the United Ebony Society of Gwinnett.

Louise Radloff Scholarship
* Duane Thomas Lee, Archer HS
* William Donald Zimmer, Mill Creek HS
This $2,500 scholarship honors students who overcome significant personal challenges to finish high school and head off to college. It is named for Louise Radloff, who served on the Gwinnett County Board of Education for four decades.

Dr. Barbara Reed Science Scholarship
* Jessie Yuan, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology
This $500 scholarship is given to students who maintain 3.0 GPAs and hope to pursue careers in science. It is named for Gwinnett County’s former director of science.

J. Alvin Wilbanks Scholarship
* Keri Barrientos, Collins Hill HS
* Mehul Bhagat
This $2,500 scholarship is awarded to students who hope to pursue education careers. It honors the district’s current superintendent, who has guided Gwinnett to national prominence.

Gov. Deal makes historic visit to Gwinnett to sign legislation

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Calling it a momentous occasion for the district, J. Alvin Wilbanks welcomed Gov. Nathan Deal to Gwinnett on Monday to make official what many teachers have wanted for several years.

Photo detail

Gov. Nathan Deal signs the Appropriations Bill into law for the budget for fiscal year 2015 at a ceremony on Monday morning at the district office of Gwinnett County Public Schools. Deal is surrounded by local elected officials and GCPS CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Wilbanks, the CEO/Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, hosted Deal in what was the first time a Georgia governor chose a public school location to sign the Appropriations Bill. Deal also signed legislation to abolish the estate tax before a board room full of local, county and state elected officials, senior district staff, school administrators and education leaders at the district office.

“I think all of us know we’ve had some tough times the past several years,” Wilbanks said. “Things are looking better, I wouldn’t say anybody’s said we’re out of the woods, but this is certainly the best budget we’ve seen in a number of years.”

The ceremony began a statewide tour on Monday for Deal to sign other legislation in Jekyll Island, Pooler, Tybee Island and Statesboro.

The bill Deal signed included the largest single increase of kindergarten through high school funding in seven years. The formula that determines that, called the Quality Basic Education formula, will be funded at $514.3 million in fiscal year 2015.

The school district will receive $30.2 million in additional state money, which comes from the reduced austerity cuts that will be $76.8 million, down from $107 million last year. Those cuts have totaled more than $815 million since 2003.

Deal chose Gwinnett to sign the legislation in part because GCPS is the largest school system in the state, and one in 10 K-12 students in the state attend GCPS schools.

“We decided that this would be a very appropriate setting to sign the fiscal year 2015 state budget,” Deal said. “Since so much of the money appropriated in this legislation is going to education, this is a very appropriate place.”

For the first time since the 2008-09 school year, GCPS employees will receive a cost-of-living raise of two percent, and teachers will receive the first step increase, a calculation based on experience, since 2009-10. Ninety eight percent of teachers will receive a step increase and a cost-of-living raise, and the average salary increase will be 3.8 percent.

“We were not certain what the effect of this appropriation was going to be on education across our state,” Deal said. “But your example is being repeated in almost every school system from which I have heard from, and I have visited.”

Being an election year, Deal said he was urged to put money specifically toward teacher raises because that would offer the biggest political bang for the buck.

“Well, that was not the right thing to do,” Deal said. “If we really entrusted education to the local board of education, and the local school superintendent, we should let them make the decision about where the money should be spent.”

The signed legislation also includes $16.5 million in bonds to expand PeachNet and other technology infrastructure upgrades and expansions. That allows the state to execute what Deal called the “eminent teacher program,” which is designed through a partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. GPB would make the lessons and presentations by the state’s best teachers available to share around the state. The program started slow because some school systems didn’t have the technological capacities to use the presentations.

Deal said the parts of the budget that would effect Gwinnett are $10.3 million in bonds for renovations and constructions of new K-12 schools, $2.1 million in bonds to build a human services building in the county, and $3.8 million in bonds to complete the new North Fulton campus of Gwinnett Technical College.

The budget also includes $105,000 for five new family residence slots at Gwinnett Medical Center.

J. Alvin Wilbanks reflects on 50 years in education

Monday, April 28th, 2014

When J. Alvin Wilbanks got the call that would lead to him taking the job as superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, he walked by a wall phone at home wearing a Lamar Alexander flannel shirt.

Wilbanks-Crews picture

In this undated photo, J. Alvin Wilbanks, left, shakes hands with former Superintendent Alton C. Crews. (Special Photo)

On the other end of the call was Louise Radloff, a longtime Gwinnett County Board of Education member, who invited him to the school board’s meeting in executive session. That canceled Wilbanks’ dinner plans, and he scurried over to the district office fast enough that he didn’t wear a sport coat.

“Come on over,” Radloff said. “We need you to come on over now.”

The meeting went well, and led to Wilbanks getting the job. He’s held the position for 19 years, and this marks his 50th year in education.

That night, in March 1996, Wilbanks was named interim superindent of GCPS, replacing Sidney Faucette, who resigned following a grand jury report where he was criticized for the handling of school system finances during his tenure in Virginia Beach, Va.

When the decision was announced, Wilbanks borrowed someone else’s coat to talk with the media. He doesn’t remember whose coat it was, just that it had to be someone of “pretty good size.”

Wilbanks took the job after he was encouraged to by former GCPS Superintendent George Thompson, who served in the early 1990s.

When he took over, Wilbanks said he would establish eight goals to strengthen academic standards to bring the system up to world class metrics.

He took over a district that had 85,000 students and 71 schools, a far cry from the nearly 170,000 students and 132 schools he oversees today.

In one of his first public statements about the position, Wilbanks wrote a letter saying he didn’t want the interim title to change the way he would lead.

“I want each of you to know I do not consider the ‘interim’ in my new title to mean that I should lead as if I am a temporary or short term superintendent,” Wilbanks wrote. “We have too many important things to accomplish for that to be the case.”

Now in his 19th year, Wilbanks has been anything but short term. He is the longest-serving superintendent of a large-school district, and the longest-serving superintendent in GCPS history.

“It takes a special person to be the CEO of any large business and being able to manage the business of education is extremely complex,” said Joseph Barrow, superintendent of Fayette County Schools and President of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. “The demands of the superintendency have evolved and the job has never been more demanding; some would say impossible. The fact that Alvin is (in) his 50th year in the profession is truly phenomenal, but even more amazing to his colleagues is that he has maintained his vision, and professional relevance.”

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History Field Trip Winner – Riverside ES

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Enjoying a spring day full of education and fun at Stone Mountain Park!

Winner of a 2014 GCPS Foundation and Stone Mountain Park History Field Trip

Ms Jeffers 4th grade class – Riverside Elementary

Ms Jeffers WYOTWYOT Ms. Jeffers 4th grade



For more information on great opportunities available to educators for field trips aligned with Gwinnett County Public Schools Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) core curriculum, contact:

Maureen Slawitschka, Education Coordinator, Stone Mountain Park, 770-413-5066