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John Gummel wins High School Principal of the Year

Kelso High School Principal John Gummel thanks students and teachers after winning Washington's High School Principal of the Year award on Tuesday.

Kelso High School Principal John Gummel has been named by his peers as Washington’s High School Principal of the Year, making him the first principal in Cowlitz County to receive the award.

Scott Seaman, an official from the Association of Washington School Principals, said the group considered principals nominated from among the state’s 500 high schools.

Past winners, Seaman said in an interview, are “all phenomenal leaders who’ve done incredible things, and John’s been doing that a long, long time and he’s getting recognized for it. He’s part of that group.”

Gummel had no clue he was getting the award. Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich had occupied him in an office while the school prepared a surprise assembly. As Gummel left the meeting, he was greeted by student cheers in the hallways. The school band played the school fight song. And Gummel was led to the cafeteria, where the school choir was performing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” while he stood there, apparently bewildered.

Then Seaman presented the award, telling the assembled school administrators, teachers and students, “we look for principals who are committed, devoted (and) believe in the heart and soul of their school. Mr. Gummel is that principal. His commitment to 100 percent graduation rate is an example for every other principal in our state.”

“I had no idea,” Gummel said after the ceremony.

During a short speech, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich also applauded Gummel’s work: “The one thing that I think you exemplified that other principals around the state could learn from your model is that you create space for leadership for others.”

“You have teachers who lead, you have an administrative team who leads and you have kids who lead. In our community our kids are known as leaders and as givers and that comes from a culture that’s been developed here,” Gelbrich added.

Tissue in hand, Gummel thanked students and teachers.

“This doesn’t happen without a tremendous staff who believes in the work and believes in all the kids,” he said.

“And of course it doesn’t happen without all you students, so thank you for everything you do. Thank you for giving your best. Thank you for giving 100 percent. And thank you for being Hilanders,” Gummel added, before telling students to go back to class.

Gummel became the Kelso high vice principal in 2007 and has been principal since 2012. Since Gummel first joined the administrative staff there, graduation rates at Kelso high have approached nearly 90 percent, up from about 75 percent for the class of 2008.

Seaman told The Daily News that the board considers how long principals have been in the school, the culture they cultivate and their impact both inside and outside the school.

That last criterion, Seaman said, is what made Gummel stand out. Under Gummel’s leadership, Kelso High transitioned from a semester system to a trimester system, giving students more opportunities to meet the state’s graduation requirements.

That transition, Seaman said, “is one of the hardest things to do.” It also provides a model for the rest of the state to follow.

“Your impact across the state made it so easy for us,” Seaman told Gummel after the ceremony.

Tuesday’s ceremony was just the start of a string of honors for Gummel. Sunday, he will attend a Seattle Mariners game, during which he and other principals will be honored. He will also attend a reception at the governor’s mansion in June and serve on the board for the Washington Association of Secondary School Principals.

Later this year, Gummel will compete with other principals for a chance at the national award, which was last won by a Washington principal in 2012.

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