Kristy Wheeler said goodbye to Sumiton Elementary School in early August and is ready to embark on a new chapter.
Wheeler has retired as principal of Sumiton Elementary and most recently saw the school through preparations for students to return for in-person instruction during the age of COVID-19.
“I had been thinking about retirement prior to the pandemic, so it was really just my time,” Wheeler said. “COVID did make the decision a little easier.”
Wheeler plans to be active during her retirement and said she looks forward to her husband, Lee, teaching her how to fish. Just as Wheeler fostered a love for learning in students over the years, she wants to keep discovering and finding new things to enjoy.
“Lee and I have talked for years about where we plan to travel once I retire,” she said. “I am looking forward to checking places off my list, reading all the books I haven’t taken time to read in the past, lots more kayaking, and spending time with the people I love.”
Wheeler shared her background in education with the Daily Mountain Eagle, which all started when she graduated from to University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1993 with a degree in early childhood education. She always worked in Walker County Schools, where she taught special education and third-grade at Cordova Elementary School, Lupton Jr. High School and Curry Elementary School.
She then served as assistant principal of Bankhead Middle School for five years. Her last 12 years in education were spent in the role of principal, where she led Farmstead Jr. High School, T.S. Boyd School and Sumiton Elementary.
Wheeler spent her career working in the county where she lived the majority of her youth.
“My father was originally from Walker County before leaving to join the army. A few years later he met my mother in Detroit, Michigan. They both graduated from the University of Michigan before moving to Alabama,” Wheeler said. “I was 7 years old the summer we moved to Jasper. I wasn’t born here but I was blessed to be raised in Walker County.”
In reflecting back on her career, Wheeler said she is most proud of the trauma centered classroom that was incorporated at Sumiton Elementary during the last school year. A grant from the Walker Area Community Foundation made the classroom possible.
The trauma centered classroom allows children to receive mental health support in a calm, relaxing space.
“The program at Sumiton Elementary has been a huge success and similar calming classrooms are being established at other schools in Walker County,” Wheeler said. “Being the first school selected for this grant was a very proud moment and a blessing to our school community.”
Wheeler said her thoughts are with all teachers, administrators and staff as they navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19.
“Teachers are driven by the love and compassion they feel for their students. Right now is a difficult time to be a teacher,” she said. “They are facing challenges we never dreamed of before but teachers have rallied and found ways to meet the needs of their students. They make me proud to be an educator.”
Wheeler said she plans to always be involved in education to some capacity, but she’s also looking forward to making new memories in her retirement. Still, Wheeler says she will miss seeing students everyday.
“Elementary children give so much love. I will miss seeing their faces light up and their big toothless smiles,” she said. “I’ll miss them jumping up and down with excitement when Santa visits or when they get light up shoes or a sparkly backpack. I will miss their hugs and their endless stories they can’t wait to share. I will miss the children most of all.”
For more education news from the Daily Mountain Eagle, visit http://www.mountaineagle.com/education.