Bruce Sumrall continues his tenure at Jackson AcademyBy NIKKI ROWELL,
Longtime Jackson Academy (JA) staff member Bruce Sumrall has been with the school through many highs and lows. High water and low enrollment, to name a couple.
A Navy brat, Sumrall has lived in Jackson since his junior year of high school. The Murrah High School graduate then attended Millsaps College, where he earned his undergraduate degree in biology. He then received a master’s degree in guidance and counseling and a master’s in administration at Mississippi College. Plus, he holds a specialist degree in guidance and counseling.
Sumrall began working as the junior high dean at JA in 1977 after a stint in the military and time as a counselor, teacher and coach at Brandon Academy.
“What really attracted me to working at JA was the headmaster and the mission,” Sumrall said. “The headmaster’s name was Glenn Cain.”
JA opened the school’s first gym the year he arrived.
“The junior high was a very small part of JA at that time, but it was growing,” he said. “Glenn Cain (headmaster) wanted somebody who had experience and the personality to work with young people. Even though it was an administrative position, they expected me to build school spirit, build school activities and make it a more comfortable place for junior high kids.”
The school went through to ninth grade at that time.
“We were very small when I came,” he said. “We had about 35 kids per grade, except in the sixth grade. Then, most kids went through sixth grade and then left.”
During the 1978-79 school year, community members, families with children at Jackson Academy and students began really pushing the idea of JA having a high school.
“In the spring of ’79, we had some kids say they wanted a high school and wanted to stay at JA,” Sumrall said.
A committee of eighth-grade students met with the board of directors to express their desire for a high school and outline a plan.
“They really impressed the board about the need for a high school, but there were a lot of conflicts to opening a school, so it was turned down,” he said.
Two months later, Jackson Academy, along with the surrounding area, was affected by the Easter flood of 1979.
The school had approximately 39 inches of water in its buildings for about a week.
According to Sumrall, as many as 400 of the 500 families who made up the school had flood damage to some degree as well.
However, despite their losses, these families turned out during the week of spring break to get the school back up and running.
Throughout the week, hundreds of students, volunteers and staff were on campus trying to salvage books and clean up flood’s aftermath.
Boats were launched from a home on Winchester Drive, according to Sumrall.
“We took things apart little by little. When you’re digging through the mud and pushing away the snakes and fire ants and rebuilding a school, we just bonded. It really felt that was when JA came together.”
In the fall of 1979, interest in starting a high school began to grow again.
It was then decided that if 185 members purchased stock in the new high school by December 15, the school would start with a sophomore class and grow a high school from there.
They reached their goal two months prior to the deadline. There was enough interest in the school that they were able to add a junior class that year, as well.
Sumrall now works part time at JA as a psychology teacher and works with the newly formed Honor Council.
The Honor Council is a student-driven committee that began this year.
“The thought behind it is that we have kids with honor and integrity, but we have kids,” he said. “We felt like we needed a code where the students could feel like they’re protected.”
Over the years, he has also served as sponsor of the Outdoor Club. He has taken groups of students to Canada, Wyoming and North Carolina on a regular basis.
“That’s a special part of JA,” he said. “I just believe you have to expose your students to settings other than the classroom. On a voluntary basis, I offer trips. The design of those trips is to get them outdoors and challenge them.”
Sumrall and his wife, Celia, have a daughter, Kara Bowen, and a son, Wade. They have four grandchildren, Kara, Alyssa, Anna and Ruthie.