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Gwinnett County Public Schools announces new principals, management restructuring

Gwinnett County Board of Education member Louise Radloff returns after absence for broken neck

SUWANEE — In a wide-ranging restructuring, Gwinnett County Public Schools announced on Thursday several changes to its upper-level management structure. While the district filled three principal vacancies, the restructuring created four other openings as principals received promotions.

District officials renamed four of its six central office divisions and they’re now grouped into two teams: operational concerns and teaching and learning. The new division names are Curriculum and Instructional Support, Human Resources and Talent Management, School Improvement and Operations and Information Management and Technology. A new office was also created, called the Strategy and Performance Office.

“As some people might think this is not a good time to make changes, it’s actually the best time because the school year has started, programs are in place, and you can bring people on and it gives them … a little breathing room to get acclimated to the job before they really have to be responsible for implementing a new program,” Superintendent/CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks said. “I’ve always felt like during the year is the best time to make a change.”

The restructuring changed the area superintendent positions, which were cluster-specific, to level-specific assistant superintendents. Four assistant superintendents will be assigned to the elementary school level, two at the middle school level and two at the high school level.

The reorganization also came with a retirement announcement. Gale Hey, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support, will retire in December. Jonathan Patterson, an assistant superintendent, will replace Hey. Nikki Mouton, the executive director for Staff Development, will transfer to be the district’s executive director for curriculum and instruction, a position that’s been vacant since last spring.

Several long-time principals left their schools for promotions to the central office.

Kevin Tashlein, the principal of Peachtree Ridge High since 2008, will become the associate superintendent for school improvement and operations.

Debra Dees, the principal at Brookwood High who has worked at the school since 1996, will be an assistant superintendent for high schools.

Craig Barlow, the principal at Riverside Elementary since 2001, will be an assistant superintendent for elementary schools.

Ed Shaddix, the principal at North Gwinnett since 2008, will also be an assistant superintendent for high schools.

Wilbanks said the restructuring wasn’t triggered to save money.

“We have combined a few positions, but it wasn’t done with that in mind one way or another,” he said. “Anytime you can avoid more money, do that, but I didn’t go into it to really save money. We did, as we always try to do, keep the organization as flat as possible.”

The move was met with support from the School Board.

“It takes quality leadership and guidance to bring this system where it ought to be,” Board member Louise Radloff said.

The district also announced three principal appointments, while there’s now five principal vacanies across the district.

For the second time in five weeks, the district announced a new principal at Berkmar High. This time, it’s Radloff Middle Principal Al Taylor, who’s been at Radloff since 2011.

Berkmar High was previously led this school year by Michael Zinn, but his transfer, after one year at the school for personal reasons to be an assistant principal at Lanier Middle, was announced on the sixth day of the school year.

The district then hired former Lilburn Middle Principal Gene Taylor on Sept. 13 to lead Berkmar High. Taylor, who resigned from being principal at North Atlanta High, changed his mind and three days later it was announced he would remain with Atlanta Public Schools. Since Zinn transferred, interim principal Jane Stegall has led Berkmar High.

Karen Lillard, an assistant principal at Beaver Ridge Elementary, will be the school’s new principal. She replaces Jose DeJesus, the new principal at Berkmar Middle, a move announced last month after that school’s principal, Kenney Wells, became a Human Resources Staffing Director.

Pamela Williams, an assistant principal at Nesbit Elementary, becomes the new principal at Bethesda Elementary. Last month, it was announced that Bethesda’s former principal, Deborah Harris, would lead Grace Snell Middle after Principal Joyce Spraggs became director of Equity and Compliance.

Louise Radloff returns

A month after Louise Radloff had a historic absence from a regular Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting, she returned on Thursday and was back to her normal contributions.

“There’s no way I’m going to be out for this,” Radloff said.

A 40-year member of the BOE, Radloff, 78, suffered a broken neck about six weeks ago when she missed a step and fell off a loading dock while picking up bread for a nonprofit. She had surgery the next day, and a week later was released from Glancy Rehabilitation Center in Duluth.

Radloff didn’t attend the September BOE meeting in person, but listened and made comments by phone at the work session and regular business meeting. It was believed to be her first absence at a regularly scheduled meeting.

Board Chairwoman Carole Boyce said she was glad to have Radloff back in person.

“It’s with great pleasure that we welcome Mrs. Radloff back,” Boyce said as she opened the work session. “Inspiration is not the word for you, there has to be another level. To have you here in physical presence is the best.”

Thursday’s appearance was only the third time she’s been out since the accident. Radloff said the work session and regular business meeting would test her stamina. She isn’t on pain medication, but has lost about 50 percent of mobility in her neck, which doctors told her wouldn’t return. For about 30 minutes each day, she wears a machine on her neck that’s designed to knit the bones together, she said.

“Considering everything, considering they thought I wasn’t going to make it, I’m blessed,” she said. “I attribute a lot of it to the surgeon I had, he was amazing. If I can handle the dizziness, I’ll be OK. That’s the main problem I have.”

Another side effect is a loss of appetite, which didn’t even return earlier this week when her sons took her out for Mexican food, her favorite. Otherwise, she’s happy to return to a busy routine of meetings around Gwinnett for various nonprofits and organizations.

“I’m not a sitting-type person,” she said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Relay for Life teams top $1.1 million

The district had 115 teams from schools and central office departments last year that participated in Relay for Life in the fight against cancer. The top teams were honored on Thursday. They raised a combined $1,111,273.65, which was 59 percent of Gwinnett County’s total last year. The top five teams that raised the most money were North Gwinnett High ($123,071.71), Norcross High ($86,638.87), Peachtree Ridge High ($38,089.30), Mill Creek High ($37,905.76) and GCPS Transportation ($31,302.50).