SUWANEE — 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.
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.”