A graduate of Cherokee High School who now serves as the school's principal has made county history in being named the 2014 Georgia High School Principal of the Year.
Debra Murdock is the first principal in the Cherokee County School District to receive the honor, which was announced in a surprise ceremony Friday morning before the district's annual Women in Sports Day.
Representatives with the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals (GASSP) joined Cherokee Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo and other district staff to present Murdock with the award.
“Cherokee High School, you can be very proud,” Alan Long, president-elect of GASSP, said as he made the presentation before an audience of students and staff from across the School District. “This is one of those moments not a lot of people get in their careers… to get to say you’re No. 1.”
The distinction recognizes "principals who provide high-quality learning opportunities for students and are acknowledged by their peers for making exemplary contributions to the profession," the district said in a news release.
Nominees are judged on selection criteria including: personal excellence; collaborative leadership; curriculum, instruction and assessment; and personalization. The selection process includes written responses including essays and supporting data, as well as interviews with school leaders from across the state.
Petruzielo noted the district was "proud" of Murdock and her achievements while at Cherokee, adding she is respected “for the leadership skills and the love she has" for her students.
"We couldn’t be happier with the selection," he added.
Murdock, who is in her fourth year as principal at the county's oldest high school, was overcome with emotion as she approached the podium after the presentation.
“I’m most proud to have come back and lead Cherokee High School and some of the most exceptional students I’ve ever known,” she said, thanking her family, her school and Petruzielo. “I stand here, thanks to him.”
Students and staff in the audience gave her a standing ovation, whooped and cheered and, when she paused to wipe away tears, shouted out messages of “We love you, Ms. Murdock!”
The Cherokee principal will be formally recognized by the organization in Savannah this fall, where she'll be presented with a Principal of the Year ring and plaque, as well as a financial award for the school.
During the spring and summer, Murdock will begin the interview process to compete for the title of National Principal of the Year and she will represent the state at the National Principal of the Year program in Washington, D.C.
Appointed as Cherokee High School’s principal for the 2010-11 school year, Murdock previously served as Teasley Middle School’s principal and as an assistant principal at both Cherokee High and at Chapman Intermediate School.
She joined the district at the start of the 1992-93 school year as a science teacher at E.T. Booth Middle School after completing her bachelor's degree in middle grades education at Kennesaw State University.
She since has earned her master's degree in middle grades education from KSU and her education specialist degree in administration and supervision from Lincoln Memorial University.
Along with serving as Cherokee's principal, Murdock's passion also extends outside Cherokee High School. Murdock is the past president of the Service League of Cherokee County and during her 10-year tenure of the organization, served as treasurer and vice-chair of its flagship fundraiser Riverfest.
She and her husband, Lance, live in Canton and have two sons, Jesey, and Jarrett, who are students in the district.