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Less than a month after he was named state high school principal of the year, Kelso High School’s John Gummel announced he is stepping down to take a new job as superintendent of the Pioneer School District in Shelton, Wash.

Gummel said Tuesday that he had not yet signed a contract, but he has verbally agreed to take the position and Kelso is looking for his replacement. His last day at Kelso High School will be June 30.

Gummel, 54, started at Kelso High as vice principal 11 years ago and has been principal for the last six.

Last month he was named Washington State High School Principal of the Year.

Before his time at Kelso, Gummel worked at Rainier Jr./Sr. High School as an assistant principal and math teacher. He also taught in Arizona for 11 years, with 27 total years of experience in education.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, Board President Bob Lucas told Gummel, “you just kind of turned the culture of the school around. … We’re just proud to have you as our principal and congratulate you on your next step as superintendent.”

“This is a unique place. I’ve been in six different districts and this is by far the best I’ve ever experienced,” Gummel responded.

Gummel was born in Phoenix and joined the Navy after high school.

He attended Arizona State University and got his master’s degree at Northern Arizona University.

He received his principal certification in 2005 from Washington State University and recently completed his superintendent certification. This will be his first time working as a superintendent.

“I love my job here, but my family lives up north and I didn’t want to make a horizontal move,” Gummel told The Daily News Tuesday.

“When I think of being a principal, this is the epitome of it,” Gummel added.

He said he wouldn’t want to be a principal in another district because it would be unfair to the new school if he was always comparing it to Kelso High.

“There’s nothing here that’s making me leave. I’m just looking for an opportunity to take my skill set and apply it to a bigger system,” Gummel said.

He also said the Pioneer district offers a phenomenal community with strong family values.

More importantly, he said, they’re looking to build a high school (currently the district serves grades K–8 and then sends most students to Shelton High School).

“What a phenomenal opportunity to use the skills that I have as a high school principal developing a high school from the ground up. When will that opportunity ever come my way again?” Gummel said.

He added that the district is “a real nice fit for my skill set around the job, but also my belief in family and my belief in community.”

But it won’t be easy to leave. Gummel said the move “is tearing out my heart.”

“I love Kelso first of all. My heart has always been here. This has been a phenomenal experience.”

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