Raising the Bar for a New Academic Year

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by Alvin Wilbanks

How does an organization that performs at the top of its game one year beat its personal best the following year? How does it keep up the momentum, and not rest on its laurels? In 2011-2012, Gwinnett County Public Schools will have to answer those questions.

Having won the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education, the school district was judged the highest-achieving, large, urban district in America, based on overall performance and success in closing achievement gaps. We have had a great year celebrating that distinction, which all employees, especially teachers and principals, and our entire community can take pride in having helped us achieve.

Besides winning the Broad Prize, GCPS had a long list of other accomplishments in 2010-2011. In the Class of 2011, seven students earned Gates Millennium Scholarships, 51 were named Broad Scholars, and countless others were offered more than $108 million in scholarships, not including the HOPE, Broad, and Gates scholarships.

The district”s athletic teams won 13 state championships. Two students are the national “Geography Challenge”# champions and several won top honors in international language competitions. Among our employees we have the Georgia Secondary Principal of the Year, the NFL Network”s Physical Education Teacher of the Year, a prestigious Milken Educator Award winner, Georgia”s Outstanding Social Studies Educator of the Year, and a Yale University Distinguished Music Educator.

Seventeen Gwinnett high schools made the list of Advanced Placement Honor Schools for increasing participation and performance in the rigorous, internationally benchmarked courses. Thirty schools were recognized by the state for continuous improvement in raising student achievement and closing gaps among groups of learners.

But that was 2010-2011. This is 2011-2012, and our national prominence means even higher expectations for us. So how does a successful organization make the next year as remarkable as the previous award-winning one? I believe the answer lies in our commitment to continuously improving by assessing where we are and moving forward. Awards and acclaim are wonderful to receive, but they also should compel you to push for even higher achievement across the board.

That is what we will be doing as we launch a new year of outstanding teaching and learning in Gwinnett County Public Schools. As we roll out our initiative called eCLASS (digital Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System); join the other Race to the Top districts in piloting a new teacher evaluation system; carry to the voters in November a crucial extension of the one-cent sales tax for schools and technology improvements – in fact, in all we do in 2011-2012, we will be reaching higher to ensure we continue to move forward toward our vision of being a system of world-class schools.

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