A new face is gracing the halls of Richmond Hill High School as principal Debi McNeal took the reins Monday of the school’s top post.
McNeal is still getting settled into her position. But she says she is “beyond excited” about her new job, and her main focus for now is getting to know the people at RHHS.
“I think coordination of responsibilities and activities, especially at very beginning, (is important) so I can make sure I schedule that time to get into classes and get to know the kids and faculty members, not just by name and by face but also by what makes them tick,” she said.
McNeal is also looking forward to seeing “all the good teaching going on” as well as Cat’s Pride Night coming up on March 27.
McNeal, who most recently was an assistant principal at North Oconee High School in Oconee County, will be in her first role as principal at RHHS.
“I have participated in many graduations, but this will be my first graduation as a principal and my first opportunity to welcome a freshman class,” McNeal said. “So with those rising ninth-graders, we’ll go through Richmond Hill High School together.”
She will also be working with more students and faculty.
“That will be an adjustment,” she said of the increase. “And from what I can tell, there’s about double the number of faculty. It’s important to me not only to know students by name, but also what’s going on with them, and that will take effort and time on my part as well as theirs.”
Though she has no children of her own, McNeal is excited about claiming the 1,700 students at RHHS as her kids.
“I am not married and I do not have children — I will claim the 1,700 at RHHS as mine,” she said. “I’m very career-oriented and very passionate about education.”
McNeal also believes the school should be viewed as a team with a common goal. And that goal is success.
“I have high expectations for everyone and … I don’t want that confused with perfectionism — there is a great deal of learning that can happen through failure.
“Everybody feeds off of everybody’s goodness and greatness and it really drives achievement for success. Teachers need to be as successful as students need to be, so it’s definitely a cycle.”
This is McNeal’s 17th year in the education realm, where she has been a teacher and held several assistant principal positions.
“The first 20 years of my life I spent in Texas, and the second 20 years I spent in Southeast Georgia,” she said. “I am a graduate of Georgia Southern University, I have family in Savannah, I have taught in Savannah-Chatham schools and I was an assistant principal in Savannah-Chatham and Effingham.”
McNeal obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Georgia Southern University in 1993 before completing work for her Masters of Educational leadership and education specialist in educational leadership later.
Although McNeal’s original intentions were to go into medicine, she said felt a calling to go into the education realm after working at a preschool in Savannah. And because of her familiarity with the area, she knew Bryan County was a place that valued education.
“When I decided to start actively pursuing a principalship … I knew that being in North Oconee schools, I wanted to be in a community that really valued education,” she said. “So when this position listed, I knew that community is very similar to Oconee County schools — it’s a level of investment in education in kids that isn’t everywhere … It’s a level of appreciation that is probably unmatched in most professions. That’s what drew me to Bryan County.”
But if she weren’t a principal or an educator, McNeal said she would still want to be a “difference-maker.”
“I don’t think there is another profession that I would find myself,” she said. “If I wasn’t a high school principal, my simple answer is I would be an assistant principal at North Oconee High School. I love my job, the school is great and I love north Georgia.
“If I had to choose something else, I would need to be a difference-maker somehow. That’s kind of what fuels me is being able to make an impact and that makes it pretty special.”