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Hammock: Karen tough to replace

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

It's probably an overused saying with departing employees that "it will take more than one person to replace you."

But with Mark Karen, it literally will take more than one. It will take three.

That's the dilemma at North Gwinnett for principal Ed Shaddix, who must fill Karen's athletic and activities director, head girls soccer and head girls cross country positions before school starts next month. Karen's leadership is moving on to Hilton Head (S.C.) High School, where he will be athletic director and assistant principal.

Karen spent the last five years as the Bulldogs' AD, helping the athletic program to unprecedented heights while also coaching the girls soccer and girls cross country teams to state championships. Those two state titles were the high school's first since a 2000 cheerleading crown, and just the fifth and sixth in school history. Unlike most Gwinnett ADs, Karen also coached while handling his other duties. That meant he drew a teacher's salary and not an assistant principal's salary (Gwinnett prohibits APs from coaching), creating a busy workload that is comparable to few -- Parkview AD, track and football coach Mark Whitley is the other that comes to mind.

Karen followed that path after watching Karl Bostick, the AD, soccer and cross country coach for years at Parkview, do the same. Karen, who graduated from Parkview, had been in the Gwinnett school system from when he was a fourth-grader until he took his new job.

"Mark's a home-grown guy who, first and foremost, started out as a great teacher and a great coach who evolved into a really good athletic director," said Mike Emery, director of athletics, student activities and community schools for Gwinnett County Public Schools. "One great thing about him is that he asks a lot of questions. He wants to learn. He takes suggestions to heart and not personally. He's always working on getting better."

It's a big loss for North, and the Gwinnett school system, that Karen will do his future improving in another state. He worked hard and was always helpful, and most importantly he did it for the right reasons.

"He's in it for the kids, that's the main thing," Emery said. "He's just a good guy. We hate to lose him for us, but we're happy for him."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.