Kenneth Sumler is a self described nomad. He’s lived across the world, from Japan to the Middle East, the United Kingdom to South Korea, Virginia to California and many states in between. But one thing has remained constant—his desire to serve.
Like his father before him, Sumler joined the U.S. Air Force after high school. After serving nine years enlisted, he crossed over and became a commissioned officer from which he served another eleven years and retired after 20 years of service. During that time he completed four degrees, an associates in general education, an associates in aircraft armament, a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary social science, and a master’s in aeronautical science.
Sumler studied aircraft maintenance and aeronautical science to fine tune his skills, but he also studied general education because he already knew that once he retired from the Air Force he wanted a second career in education.
“I had always dreamed of being an educator,” Sumler said. “My goal was to be in the Air Force, retire and start a second career in education.”
He attributed his Air Force career to his father, who served 27 years in the Air Force which laid the foundation for his dreams and aspirations.
Sumler began his career at South Johnston High School as a lateral entry Air Force JROTC teacher while taking classes through ECU and UNC-Asheville. While at South Johnston, it was the school administration and the Trojan staff that believed in him and inspired him to serve as an administrator.
Yet before that, it was words from Col. Steven Kwast, wing commander at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, in 2007 he had taken to heart that soon motivated him to step up and shoulder a larger leadership role.
“Col. Kwast said there is an expectation that as a commissioned officer, once you retire from the service, it is your obligation to serve the community based on all the instructions, lessons learned and everything our military and nation has invested in you,” Sumler said. “Once you retire from the Air Force, it is your duty and responsibility to serve in some form or fashion. I believe in that. I honor that, and that’s what I’m doing.”
While serving in Johnston County, Sumler soon completed his Masters of School Administration Add-On through UNC-Wilmington and gained a vast amount of knowledge serving as an assistant principal at Smithfield-Selma High School and then Goldsboro High in Wayne County.
“While serving as Assistant Principal at Goldsboro High School, I had the great fortune of dropping my son off at his middle school every morning, and then I would head to the high school,” said Sumler. “I did not have that opportunity when I was active duty. I was either deployed or on a TDY (Temporary Duty). Being able to take my son to school meant and still means a lot to me and to him.”
Sumler wasn’t in Wayne County for long before the opportunity to serve again in Johnston County became available, this time as a principal.
“I really appreciate it because everyone has welcomed me with open arms. Now being Principal here at North Johnston Middle, to serve the students, to serve the staff, to serve the community, it’s a great honor,” Sumler said.
Having only been on the job since the beginning of the month, Sumler said the thing he’s been most apprecative of so far is the hospitality he’s been shown.
“I’m grateful for the staff who is here because they met me and my wife with open arms,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of the fact that when I brought my son here just to see what it was like, he was amazed at the learning atmosphere. He was shocked at how large the band is, and he enjoyed interacting with the students. I’m very appreciative and thankful.”
Sumler believes the greatest challenge any principal faces is living up to and fulfilling the needs of students, staff, and community members.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said. “We’re here to make sure the kids learn. But at the same time we have to fulfill the needs of the students, staff, and the community. Because we want to make sure we are growing at a consistent pace that is going to trickle into the overall environment of the county.”
To accomplish consistent growth, Sumler said relationships will be critical.
“The community, staff, and students, they have to get to know me, and I have to get to know them so that we can be one. And when we are one, we can accomplish a whole lot more,” Sumler said.
He also said he has a charge for our teachers and for himself to meet the goals for North Johnston Middle. He wants everyone to know the mantra by heart.
“People can walk into any school anywhere in our nation and ask, ‘What’s the vision statement or what’s the mission statement?’ Often teachers don’t remember it. Administrators don’t remember it. Many times it’s because it’s a big paragraph with a bunch of 21st Century and education industry buzz words,” Sumler said. “We are keeping it simple, to the point, yet very effective. Our mantra is pretty much a math problem with words. Relationships plus Academics Rigor equals Growth.”
All of which, Sumler said, ties back into JOCO 2020.
“The foundation of JOCO 2020 is the relationship piece. I’m making sure I’m building relationships with our great staff, and I’m focused on building them with our phenomenal students,” he said. “But more importantly, I understand that it’s not about me. It’s about everyone else. It’s about the students. It’s about the staff. It’s about us.”