After a dozen years at the helm of Crozet Elementary School, Principal Gwedette Crummie announced in June that she will retire from the school division. “I think a school always deserves somebody fresh and new,” she said, “with new ideas and a whole lot of energy.” The county school division has launched a survey and search and hopes to name a new or interim principal for Crozet Elementary (CRES) in July.
The role of principal is a demanding one, and most county principals shift to other administrative positions in due course. “In 2020 I turned around and realized I’d been here 10 years, and you know, sometimes you can just feel that it’s time for a change,” said Crummie. “But then we all got sucked into the vortex of Covid, and I really wanted to help my community through all of that.” So, two more years passed, and they were the most challenging of her career.
“The pandemic year was very hard with all of the stages [of instruction] and just keeping everything organized and moving ahead,” said Crummie. “But this year was harder, as everyone—students, families, teachers, and staff—was dealing with how they were feeling, and at the same time trying to be safe with each other. What I did was to try to give them some relief by keeping the vibe as fun and playful as possible and by giving teachers some flexibility to try to relieve their stress.”
On top of all that, construction began last summer on a major school expansion that Crummie had been hearing about since her fourth year in Crozet, one that will be complete by this fall’s start of school. “In June, we were dealing with so much just closing out the school year,” she said. “We had to pack up everything because we had to be out of the building [for the construction crews], and people were going to have to move to new rooms because most of the rooms would be different. You just have to be mindful of the temperature of your school community—the teachers, the staff are going through so much.”
After spending recent weeks preparing for the nearly 220 new students and their families that will make the transition from Brownsville to CRES this fall, arranging class placements and teacher assignments, and watching the new buildings near completion, Crummie realized that she’d come to an inflection point in her life. “When I saw what lies ahead, I thought, somebody new and young and fresh and energetic would be better for this,” she said. “I just felt like it was time to let go. And I felt like this would be the perfect time—why not take on a new leader to lead them on to a new horizon?”
Crummie’s tenure as principal has been suffused with her values, and she has worked intently to cultivate a deep sense of community and connection both within the school and between the school and Crozet, as well as to encourage students to care for nature and their environment, and, most of all, to project a sense of joy and curiosity about learning that she hopes all students embrace.
“What I loved about the community right from the start was that I could see all these unique things that were happening here around the school and in the community,” said Crummie. “But it seemed like few people around the locality really knew about it. It was so quiet, there was an identity here but not really shining out to everyone in the surrounding areas.” She supported the efforts of students and teachers to reach out to community members that could help strengthen that identity.
“We started with getting serious about our composting program, and then did a “Connecting the Dots” [environmental education] program where the second grade created a rain garden habitat, and then fifth grade came on board with their water conservation and testing projects,” said Crummie. After being named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015—one of Crummie’s proudest accomplishments—the school continued its efforts, planting a riparian buffer along a nearby stream and partnering with the Waterboys team to raise money for clean water in Africa. “In each of those projects we connected with local partners, bringing them into the school and having kids see how valuable these community efforts can be.”
In the hands of Crummie and her crew, even a simple initiative such as an emphasis on literacy could become an epic event. “I always say RED, meaning Read Every Day!” she said. “That’s my mantra.” RED became a school-wide book club and an annual challenge where some mischief involving the principal inspired the students to reach a reading goal. “One year it was ‘Where in the world is Ms. Crummie?’ and I hid all over the school, one year I camped out in a tent,” she said. “One year it was ‘Send Ms. Crummie to the moon,’ and we launched a rocket out in the yard.” Most unorthodox was the year students taped Crummie up to a wall, and she was endlessly good-natured about all of it.
Crummie derives a special pleasure in watching the professional development of the school’s teachers and staff. “To see them grow and start to take leadership roles is wonderful, and then it’s not me and my voice, but their own voices,” she said. “They are empowered and stand in their own light, and that brought me joy. I always want to inspire a teacher and I always look at their strong points and build out on their strengths. Then we can recognize and identify the areas that they need to grow in and learn more about being better.”
Her love of the mentoring role is leading Crummie to her next venture, where she is pursuing an opportunity to work part-time with an online consulting group that supports new principals as they learn the job. “There is a great need for this—young, new principals need support,” she said. “What’s happening is a lot of experienced principals are retiring across the U.S., so there are a lot of new ones out there that need some guidance, and I can understand that. Sometimes you need someone to talk to, to ask, ‘How do I handle this situation?’”
Crummie said that sometimes principals “can feel alone because we’re the school leader in the middle—right between the division administration and the whole school community.” Being an assistant principal does give you have a bit of understanding of how things operate, but I must say after I moved from assistant principal to principal, it’s different. It’s one thing to know how things operate, but when you are the principal, everything is on you. I enjoyed the close bond and conversations with my principal colleagues, who gave me wonderful guidance and support during my years as an administrator.”
Having taught as a gifted resource teacher with ACPS early in her career and served as an administrator at both the elementary and middle school levels, Crummie said she likes working with all ages of children. “I love all of them, just all students in general,” she said. “That’s what brings me joy coming in each day. Elementary kids are hilarious. They just make you laugh. And they love the hugs! [Before Covid] I used to go to the classrooms—every class, every day—and say good morning to everyone.”
Crummie believes that, particularly after the pandemic, approaches to teaching have changed and “there’s no going back.” “We have to be very mindful of this social, emotional aspect of teaching that has always been there,” she said. “This newer generation, they are connected to the world, but that doesn’t mean they know how to process it all. So, we saw the growing number of students coming in with anxieties, and we need to be attentive to the students’ emotional and social needs, and to help them thrive as learners. Because you cannot teach students if their brains are stressed. That for me was a real ‘aha’ moment.”
As she reflects on the current state of education, Crummie thinks of a quote from Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” “There will be a productive struggle in the change, because change is not easy,” she said. “I appreciated and valued all of my leadership opportunities with ACPS.”
Congratulations, Principal Crummie! We wish you the best, you will be missed!