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Northview's Mr. 'Z' dies after long illness: Peter Zervakos inspired students wherever he went

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March 20, 2013
NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Peter Zervakos, Mr. "Z" to his students, was a career educator, musician and mentor to students everywhere. In a career that spanned more than 30 years with Fulton County Schools, he was always engaged with his students.

He had the ability to inspire so that as an administrator he turned his schools into high performance schools.

But his first love was music, and after he retired as principal at Northview High School in 2009, he picked up his baton to be band director again at Roswell High School the following year, rejuvenating the RHS band program.

A year later, a debilitating illness slowed him and finally forced him to quit the job he loved so much. He died after a long illness Sunday, March 17, 2013.

Atlanta-born, Mr. Z was part of a thriving Greek community that revolved around his church. He is a lifelong member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta, where he was also organist and director of the Hellenic Community Orchestra.

It was a curious teaching career in a way. It began in 1979 when he was a 21-year-old band director at College Park High School.

In 1984, he made the move to Alpharetta to become the Milton High band director. Shortly thereafter, he met and married a student teacher at MHS, Sally Major, who had been completing her student teaching stint for her education degree.

He was first marked for greater things in public education when in 1990 he was made magnet program director of the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program at Tri Cities High School, in East Point.

It was an administrative position for an innovative program in the first high school opened in Fulton County in 20 years.

Later, Mr. Z took a position closer to home in Johns Creek as an assistant principal at Chattahoochee High School. This was followed by another huge step in 1997 when he was named principal of North Springs High School, the arts-science magnet school in Sandy Springs.

North Springs went on to achieve many honors under Mr. Z's leadership, including national awards such as a 1997 Grammy Signature School and both a U.S. News and World Report Outstanding School and Newsweek magazine's Top 300 School in 2000.

In 2002, he began the capstone of his career when he opened Northview High School in Johns Creek as the principal. At the time, Mr. Z said he couldn't pass up the chance to work with an absolutely clean slate – and in his own backyard.

"This was the new school back then. Being able to open a school from scratch is really something that you'd like to do if you have the opportunity," Mr. Zervakos said.

Once again, the honors came to the school he led. When then-Gov. Sonny Perdue initiated his Governor's Cup award, Northview won it three times running from 2004-06.

Northview was also a College Board AP Honor School, a Georgia School of Excellence, named the No. 1 School in Atlanta by Atlanta Magazine and won numerous region and state trophies in athletics, ROTC and the arts.

"Everything I've ever done, I've enjoyed," he said in a 2009 interview. "I've been so fortunate."

Then the opportunity to be the Roswell band director opened up for him in 2010. But that last year was his swan song. He was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob's Disease, which is a degenerative disease of the brain.

Mr. Z died peacefully at the Peachtree Christian Hospice facility in Duluth.

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Tags: Education News & School Sports

  1. report print email
    Mr. Z
    March 21, 2013 | 04:38 PM

    Not many local people is aware of that Mr. Z was the first and only educator/principal from Georgia had established an educational friendhship program with Taiwan through Taipei Economic and Culture Organization, also called TECO. There were many Chinese cultural and educational events had taken places between Northview High School in Fulton County and Taiwan during his term as principal.
    I was fortunate enough and proud of to be there to observe the cemenory event took place at the School in that year.
    This is Gloria Dai-Lin Cheng and is a retired Fulton teacher and I am returning to be a partime Chinese language teacher this year.

    Gloria Cheng
  2. report print email
    Inaccurate info
    March 29, 2013 | 11:28 PM

    A GREAT piece on my band director and brother-in-law. But he spent his last days at Embracing Hospice in Cumming, Ga.

    Thanks so much to whoever worked on this article. It's clear they knew Peter and had a true sense of the impact he had on his students, friends and family. I feel blessed to have known him and work hard to emulate him as an educator.

    John Major
  3. report print email
    Great review of the wonderful Mr. Z.
    March 30, 2013 | 12:29 PM

    Thanks for the excellent retrospective of his remarkable life. And this description only scratched the surface!

    There's also his rich background with UGA, his beautiful family and more.

    He was a hero to so many. Everyone loved Mr. Z.

    Jason Davis
  4. report print email
    May 09, 2013 | 11:31 AM

    Being displaced from Wisconsin and very lonely, I found a second family in the choir at Holy Transfiguration. Peter was a WONDERFUL choir director and person. He took me in as though I'd sung with him all my life. I can't tell you what being part of that choir meant to me. My most sincere sympathy to his lovely wife and daughters and to my friend, Celeste.

    Martha Pavlovic
    Pewaukee, Wisconsin
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