The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday appointed a longtime district leader to head up its new social and emotional learning initiative, as well as multiple new principals as a result of the change.

Debra Murdock, who most recently has served as the School Operations’ executive director overseeing middle and high schools, will take on the newly created role focused on developing new ways to better support students’ and employees’ emotional and mental health and well-being. She is also a former principal of Cherokee High School and Georgia High School Principal of the Year.

“Debbie grew up here, raised her own family here, and loves every child in our schools as if they’re all her own,” said Superintendent Brian Hightower. “She taught hundreds of students before advancing to serve as an assistant principal and then principal and then CCSD leader — and every time she was promoted, we heard complaints from the students and families who didn’t want her to leave them. In this new role, she will be focused again on our students and how we can better care for them.”

This appointment is the first step in adopting recommendations of the Superintendent’s new ad hoc committee studying social and emotional learning, or SEL. The committee of teachers, administrators and school counselors, nurses and psychologists developed recommendations to improve supports for students and staff, which Hightower has committed to phasing in for CCSD.

Other recommendations from the committee include creating an appointed SEL oversight committee, creating care teams for innovation zones and schools, and incorporating SEL into curriculum as well as professional development for all district staff.

Murdock has been a leader in the district’s work on SEL for the past year, so she was the clear choice for the new position, said school district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby.

As a result of Murdock’s appointment, Creekview High School Principal Mark Merges has been appointed to serve in her former role as the School Operations’ executive director of administrative leadership for middle and high schools. A 25-year educator, Merges has led Creekview since 2016, earning recognition as a finalist for Georgia High School Principal of the Year, and previously served as an assistant principal at Sequoyah High School and Dean Rusk Middle School.

The Creekview High School principal post will be filled by longtime educator Sue Zinkil, who most recently has served as principal of neighboring Creekland Middle School. She previously led Teasley Middle School as its principal, which she opened on its new campus and where she was named Georgia’s Middle School Principal of the Year.

Richie Carnes, who most recently served as assistant principal at Mill Creek Middle School, will lead Creekland Middle School as its new principal. He brings 25 years of experience as an educator to the role, including as an assistant principal at Carmel Elementary School and Indian Knoll Elementary School and as a teacher at Cherokee High.

Jillian Seibert, an assistant principal at Little River Elementary School, has been tapped to serve in the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, with Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy Assistant Principal John Hultquist moving to Little River. Rachel Wasserman, who previously has served as an assistant principal at Woodstock Elementary School, will serve in that role at Holly Springs.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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