The Gwinnett County School Board has tapped a former employee, Calvin Watts, to be its next superintendent. At a meeting Thursday, the board announced Watts is the sole finalist for the job.
Watts has been the superintendent of the Kent School District, near Seattle, since 2015. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in Gwinnett, where he worked for 13 years.
“I look forward to leading Gwinnett County Public Schools towards its next chapter, a trajectory of greatness for each and every student,” Watts said during a video appearance at the board meeting. “My leadership philosophy has always been to reach and teach students as if they had my last name.”
Legally, the board has to wait 14 days before taking a final vote. If approved, Watts would be the first African-American to lead the state’s largest school district. He’d replace Alvin Wilbanks, who led Gwinnett for 25 years. Wilbanks had a year left on his contract, but the board bought it out to move ahead with a new leader.
At Thursday’s meeting, board members paid tribute to Wilbanks, who was in attendance.
“Mr. Wilbanks, we send you our deepest and most prized appreciation for the incredible work that you have done to leave a legacy of a world-class school system,” said board member Mary Kay Murphy. “It has been my distinct honor to serve on the board with you … and on behalf of the community at large, I believe I’m able to say we will work to continue the great legacy that you have left to us.”
The decision to start looking for a new superintendent before Wilbanks’ contract ended displeased some community and board members. But board chair Everton Blair said the board included Wilbanks in early discussions about his departure and he agreed to the terms of the buyout.
“There is never a right time to say goodbye, but there comes a time when you have to realize that it is a better decision to happen earlier rather than for your last year to be a fight,” Blair said. “The decision to move forward was literally one that was done in collaboration. There were no surprises.”
Blair then thanked Wilbanks, who had been his superintendent when he was a Gwinnett student.
“Thank you, Mr. Wilbanks … from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I just want to thank you for the work that you did to make this school system what it is.”
Wilbanks was the meeting’s final speaker.
“I take great pride in the work that has been accomplished during my tenure,” he said. “It has been my pleasure and honor to serve as your superintendent for the past 25 1/2 years. Education has been my life’s work for 56 years and my work in this school district has been the highlight of my career.”