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'Education is a people business'

If Georgia had an educators’ hall of fame, J. Alvin Wilbanks would be included as a bronze statue.

The superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools since 1996, Wilbanks (B.S.Ed. ’64, M.Ed. ’68) has spent more than 50 years in education. His legacy extends from classroom teaching and into higher education and state boards; he is also notable within his own district, where he has transformed it into a model of success.

But even though many accolades come attached to Wilbanks’ name, he is quick to praise the faculty and staff across Georgia’s largest school district for his success.

“Gwinnett is a very large and diverse district that has been successful educating all students,” he says. “Our teachers and staff have done a great job over the years.”

During his tenure, the district—which has 143 schools and an enrollment of more than 180,000—has received numerous awards. The most notable of these was being named a two-time winner of the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education. He has also been appointed by Georgia’s last two governors to chair the board of trustees for the Georgia Teacher Retirement System and was elected as the inaugural chair of the Georgia Education Coalition.

In 2015, Wilbanks received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Education.

It’s the people, he says, that make the job meaningful. With more than 50 years working in education, Wilbanks stresses that the experience simply gets better over time.

“Education is a people business, and you get to work with all age groups,” he says. “It gets better with time and experience because you learn and build the capacity to be more effective and your influence on others, especially students, is rewarding.”

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