Richmond Hill High School Principal Debi McNeal was recently named as a finalist by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals for its annual Principal of the Year Award. It’s an honor she didn’t win. McNeal, who was named principal at RHHS in 2013, was disqualified when she was named director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Bryan County Schools, a job she’ll begin next year.
Still, McNeal said just being nominated was an honor. And to help out a reporter, she agreed to answer a list of emailed questions on several topics related to her job, and some that weren’t.
What’s it like to be nominated for the principal of the year award?
This is both an honor and very humbling. I have been nominated before, but this last year was the first time I completed the associated application. The application is comprehensive and forces the nominee to comprehensively review school data and self-reflect on effective practices. Honestly, completing that application was a great form of professional learning, so I am better for having gone through the process!
When did you decide you wanted to get into education, and why did you decide to do so?
I went to college hoping to go to medical school and become a doctor. I applied to medical school but was wait-listed and didn’t get in that year (1993). While waiting for next year’s application window, I worked at a daycare. I worked with the 4 year old class, and I loved it! I went to Armstrong and got my teacher certification and the rest is history.
What qualities do you think a teacher needs to be successful? Same question about principals.
What makes a good principal? Dedication, patience, flexibility, high expectations, being consistent, dependable, having strong interpersonal skills, and above all LOVE KIDS What makes a good student? Good students are at school (have good attendance), come prepared to learn, and participate in the learning activities. A will to learn can make any person a GREAT student, I think. Also, being involved in a club or athletic program helps. Sometimes students are required to take classes they may not love, so having an interest in school beyond the academics makes it more enjoyable.
What will you miss most about being a principal? And, what will you miss most about RHHS?
I will miss the regular interactions with so many people --students and adults. I think I will also miss the fast-paced environment. RHHS will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first principalship. I will miss being part of the Wildcat pride each day!
What do you like to do when you’re not busy being principal?
I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts and cooking. On occasion, I am guilty of binge-watching Netflix.
What are some challenges you think educators will face down the road?
Social media will continue to bring challenges to educators as will the continued development of technology. The challenge will be how to make technology work for us and not against us.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Pop rock, country
What’s your favorite food?
Mexican! Or a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts with cream and a shot of toasted almond syrup.
Do you have pets?
Not right now – but I have had dogs and love dogs! Mollie and Gordon were both rescues and moved with me to Richmond Hill. They have since passed away.
If you could spend an hour having lunch with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
This is not an easy question – at all. I need some time to think on this one.