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Broad Prize Celebration!!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Willbanks, right, shakes hands with Bruce Reed, the Broad Foundation Present, during the Gwinnett County Public Schools Broad Award celebration at the newly renamed J. Alvin Willbanks Instructional Support Center on Tuesday in Suwanee. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Willbanks, right, shakes hands with Bruce Reed, the Broad Foundation Present, during the Gwinnett County Public Schools Broad Award celebration at the newly renamed J. Alvin Willbanks Instructional Support Center on Tuesday in Suwanee. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

SUWANEE — When Celeste Wilbanks, the five grandchildren and great-granddaughter showed up, it was officially a big deal.

A big party reached another level at the very end of an evening celebration that turned out to be unscripted for almost all of the 1,400 attendees. In a suprise announcement on Tuesday evening when the latest Broad Prize was awarded to Gwinnett County Public Schools, the Gwinnett County Board of Education named the Instructional Support Center in honor of CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

Wilbanks, who has led the school district since 1996, knew it was coming at some point, but the timing was a surprise. Most of the senior district leaders were not aware. Only Chief of Staff Berney Kirkland and Chief Operations Officer Danny Jardine were aware that the naming would happen on Tuesday.

“I was thrilled,” said Celeste, Alvin Wilbanks’ wife of 50 years, who doesn’t attend many public functions. “This kind of sums up every thing about him. … I thought it was just perfect.”

The Board members said they considered naming a new school after Wilbanks, but chose the ISC because it represents the district overall — a sort of umbrella effect.

Wilbanks said he was honored and humbled by the honor.

“I love this school district, I love this county,” said Wilbanks, who called it a ‘wow evening’ even before his naming announcement was made. “My family means everything to me. I didn’t know my wife and my two daughters were here. I should have realized that when the grandchildren were here. When you get to be a grandparent, grandchildren are special, and they know they’re special to me, and I certainly appreciate them being here.”

Before the Wilbanks announcement, the evening featured remarks from an alumnus, teachers, administrators, local and state elected officials and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

State School Superintendent John Barge called Gwinnett a “shining star for the state of Georgia,” and the best thing he could do at the state level is, “get out of Alvin’s way.”

State Rep. Brett Harrell read a commendation from Gov. Nathan Deal before a video message from Isakson was played for the crowd.

“I’ve never known a more dedicated, committed, humble public servant than Alvin Wilbanks,” Isakson said. “I think winning this award is a tribute not just to him, but the entire public school system, the community and Board of Education.”

It was a celebration not often seen in the Board Room at the ISC. Some said they’ve only seen the room converted to serve appetizers and light refreshments when the school district wins the Broad Prize.

It was the second time since 2010 that GCPS won the award, and it was also named a finalist in 2009.

The Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation annually awards the Broad Prize for Urban Education, considered one of the largest education prizes in the country, to honor school districts that demonstrate educational improvement, especially for low-income students and minorities.

This was the first year since the prize’s inception in 2002 that the review board named only two finalists, instead of either four or five. Districts cannot apply or be nominated for the award, and winners are not eligible for three years following a win.

Gwinnett is the second two-time winner of the Broad. The Houston Independent School District won in 2002 and 2013. It was announced last month that GCPS would share the $1 million in prize money for college scholarships for graduating high school seniors with Orange County (Fla.) Schools.

Gwinnett’s total prize winnings since 2009 is now $1.75 million toward college scholarships.

The scholarships pay $5,000 a year for four-year schools and $2,500 a year for students attending two-year schools and are aimed at students who have shown improvement in their grades over time. When GCPS was a finalist in 2009, 13 Gwinnett seniors received scholarships, while in 2010 that number was 52.

Members of the selection jury in September said Gwinnett was chosen because of steady, sustainable gains. Some of the main reasons that Gwinnett was in the running were achievement and college entrance exam participation by low-income and minority students.

The foundation determines 75 of the nation’s largest urban school districts based on Census data of urbanity. At least 40 percent of students in those districts must be low-income, meaning they receive free or reduced lunch. In Gwinnett this school year, 57 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“This is your prize, you’ve earned it and you deserve it,” said Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation. “You make it look easy, but let me tell you it’s not. You’re competing against the biggest cities and districts who spend twice as much per student as you do. This is a victory that means something, and it means everything to the students you teach and families you serve.”

In 2013, 88 percent of Gwinnett’s seniors participated in the SAT, including 90 percent of the district’s African-American students and 70 percent of Hispanic seniors. This compares to an eligible district average participation rates of 43 percent for African-American students and 40 percent for Hispanic students.

A greater percentage of low-income students are reaching advanced academic levels in Gwinnett than in other districts in Georgia. In 2013, the percentage of Gwinnett’s low-income students at all education levels (elementary, middle and high school) performing at the highest achievement level (Exceeds) in reading, math and science ranked in the top 20 percent statewide compared to other low-income students.

For example, 33 percent of Gwinnett’s low-income middle school students reached the advanced academic level on the state math assessment compared with 19 percent of low-income middle school students in the rest of the state.

School Board Chairman Dan Seckinger credited the students for making the event possible, and also said the board members were in awe and humbled about the accomplishment. Then he looked ahead.

“While today is truly incredible, tomorrow is another day,” Seckinger said. “We can’t rest on the successes of the past. Yesterday is in our rearview mirror, and while we would be foolish not to enjoy this moment, likewise we would be foolish to think we have arrived.”



Win Field Trips to Stone Mountain Park!

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Fall 2014

THE 20TH CENTURY BEGINS: 1899-1939 Program

STONE MOUNTAIN PARK offers many interactive and engaging educational opportunities in both the social studies and sciences this school year that align with GCPS AKS.   For information on this program please visit:   FREE SCIENCE KITS for on-sight science field trips!    


This fall enter your class in the “Write Your Own Ticket” contest.    DEADLINE: September 12, 2014

Spring 2015


Win a Free Georgia History Field Trip of your Choice at Stone Mountain Park Plus Bus Transportation!
Details: Enter your class in the “Write Your Own Ticket” GCPS Contest for a chance to win your choice of a FREE Civil War in Georgia, Colonial Georgia or Antebellum Life field trip including bus transportation to Stone Mountain Park in the spring. Your choice of one of these three free educational field trips is being offered exclusively to GCPS and is courtesy of Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation and Stone Mountain Park! 
 History field trips correlate with GCPS social studies 1st through 8th grade AKS.  DEADLINE:  JANUARY 30, 2015

Ask about Snow Mountain Snow Day for schools on December 12, 2014! 770-498-5636

Maureen Slawitschka
Education Coordinator
Stone Mountain Park

GSMST student receives $1,500 scholarship from film distribution company

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology senior Samuel Zinga stands with Prinicpal IV Bray after receiving “The Boxtrolls” Innovator Award on Tuesday.

LAWRENCEVILLE — A senior at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology was surprised several days ago with a $1,500 scholarship from a film distribution company that named the scholarship after a new release on the big screen.

Samuel Zinga accepted the scholarship in front of more than 500 students, family, faculty and staff at the school. Focus Features presented the scholarship ahead of the nationwide release of “The Boxtrolls” on Friday.

GSMST faculty and administrators selected Zinga for the award based on his creativity, inventiveness and dedication to the school and his community. His passion for helping others within the school is similar to a lead character in “The Boxtrolls” movie, Eggs, as he tries to save his troll friends.

Eggs decides to take on the town’s villian, Archibald Snatcher, and teams up someone named Winnifred to save Eggs’ family.

Earlier in his career at GSMST, Zinga started a tutoring program for 50 ninth-graders called the “Freshmen Mentoring Program.” He’s also the president of the school’s National Honor Society and was the GSMST representative at the International Federation for the Teaching of English conference in Atlanta this summer.

Two School Districts Awarded 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
2014 image

Educators in both Gwinnett County, pictured, and Orange County use student data to improve teaching and learning.

Gwinnett County in Georgia and Orange County in Florida are the first districts to share the award.


For the first time, two school districts have won The Broad Prize for Urban Education, a prestigious annual award. The prize is given to large, urban districts that boast strong overall student performance and success in reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students.

Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Florida were awarded the prize today.

“Both of these districts show that it’s possible to make sharp, sustained progress with a large, diverse population,” says Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which sponsors the competition.

The districts will evenly split the $1 million prize – the largest award given in public education – and dole the money out as college scholarships for high school seniors.

“We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the selection jury, said in a statement. “In the end, we decided that both finalists deserved to win the 2014 Broad Prize.”

The two districts share very similar demographics, Reed says. Both are diverse and among the largest districts in the country in terms of enrollment.

Gwinnett County won the 2010 Broad Prize and was a finalist for the award in 2009. Reed says the district’s stable leadership, focus on developing good teachers and principals, and commitment to challenging its students have contributed to the district’s success.

A greater percentage of low-income students, as well as black students, are reaching advanced academic levels than in other districts in Georgia, according to The Broad Foundation.

​​”The two positions in the school district that really determine whether or not you are going to be successful are your teachers and your principals,” says J. Alvin Wilbanks, who has been chief executive officer and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools since 1996.

He attributes the district’s success to effective educators. Gwinnett County has focused on leadership development and providing teachers with data, such as student achievement and attendance information, ​to improve their instruction.

The district’s high school seniors​ also have the highest SAT participation rate among eligible districts for The Broad Prize. Seventy-five of the largest urban school districts in the country are automatically eligible for the prize each year. [See rankings of the Best High Schools.]

First-time finalist and winner Orange County in Florida ​has made remarkable gains in student achievement in recent years, says Reed, of The Broad Foundation.

​​”We can’t afford for every school to be an individual entity because our children move in and out of our schools too regularly,” says superintendent Barbara Jenkins, on the realities of managing an urban school district.

The ​district has focused on centralizing curriculums and programs throughout the district, she says, so that educators spend less time catching new students up, which often actually slows them down.

Officials also try to adhere to a strategic, long-term plan created nearly five years ago​, she says.

“I think you have to purposely discard practices and efforts that have not been working and get more toward what is working for your children,” she says. Like Gwinnett County, officials in Orange County place a strong emphasis on using student performance and other data to inform decisions.​​

​The district has narrowed income and minority achievement gaps, improved college readiness and, in recent years, raised achievement among low-income middle school students, according to The Broad Foundation. [Learn why some think prospective teachers should have more rigorous testing requirements.]

The two winners of the 2014 Broad Prize were also the only two finalists for the award.

In years past, four or five districts were selected as finalists, Reed says, but the review board, which selected the finalists​, was disappointed with the overall performance of the eligible districts. They decided that only these districts had done sufficiently well to become ​finalists.

“Both these districts show that able, aggressive leadership is important to raising student achievement,” Reed says.

Jenkins, of Orange County, notes that urban educators have the challenge of educating students of many different backgrounds.

“That’s what makes urban education so exciting,” she says. “You serve all of those children, wherever you find them, and get them all to high levels of achievement that we believe that they are capable of.”

GCPS is a finalist for the 2014 Broad Prize!

Monday, September 8th, 2014

BroadPrizeStatueGCPS is a finalist for the 2014 Broad Prize!

Share what you love most about our schools and why GCPS should win on FB/Twitter. Include @GwinnettSchools, #broadprize, and a picture.







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.