It’s hard not to love Summer Thompson, say those who know her.
Nearly everyone who knows the Johnson Elementary School principal talks about how much they her.
It’s evident from the school bus full of kids who yell, “we love you Ms. Thompson!” at dismissal every day. It’s evident even from the cards and drawings from students that adorn her office. Most of them say some variation of “I love you.” One adds that she is “awesome.”
“I think it’s that her smile is just so warm,” said Tyesha Hill, whose youngest child is in kindergarten at Johnson. Her two older children graduated from Johnson. “She has the most beautiful smile, even if something’s wrong.”
Her students feel the same way. Not long after he started at Johnson, a kindergartener took up the habit of charging at Thompson—whether he was rushing up from Cherry Avenue, dashing through the trees near the school or being dropped off by a car—and koala-clinging to her leg.
Thompson helps with the morning drop-off every day, and the ambush by hug has become part of her routine.
“I don’t know that he will remember it, but it’s special to me. It starts my day off right,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s desire to work with kids and help people pushed her toward education. She started out teaching at Venable, then took a math specialist position at Johnson 17 years ago. She’s been there ever since.
“You’re going to have every kid from every kind of background here,” Thompson said. “It’s certainly not a perfect utopia, but it’s pretty awesome here. We just have awesome kids and an awesome staff … and we see that it plays out.”
Parents do too. Hill said her older kids are doing well at other Charlottesville City Schools, making A’s and B’s and playing sports.
“It all started at Johnson. I don’t even want to move into a new neighborhood until my younger son is finished,” Hill said.
Thompson said that, typically, she brings her work home with her, and that she was grateful to her family for “putting up” with it. “It” includes leaving her house open for 14 hours a day during the pandemic to distribute Chromebooks and other necessary items to students.
“They wanted us to do distribution at the school from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., something like that. And I was like, ‘My people can’t do that!’” — because their jobs wouldn’t give them that time off, Thompson said.
So Thompson gave them her home address, said to come by any time between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., and passed out technology to families who needed it so their kids could learn remotely.
Thompson opened up her home to students prior to the pandemic, too. A few years ago, three students needed a place to stay in Charlottesville during the week, so they stayed with Thompson and her family before going back to their mom on weekends.
“It just seemed to make more sense to have some kids stay with me than some of the other alternatives that were available,” Thompson said. Her own three kids loved it, she said.
Part of her dedication to Johnson students comes from the fact that her own kids currently attend or graduated from the school, despite the fact that the Thompson family’s house isn’t zoned for Johnson.
“If I’m going to put your kid in that classroom, then I should feel good about putting my kid in that classroom. And if I’m going to be the principal of a school then I should believe in that school enough to bring my kids here,” Thompson said.
Thompson remains dedicated to her students, even after they leave her school. Thompson continues to ask about Hill’s daughter and older son.
“It’s not just, ‘I’m a principal,’ you know?” Hill said of Thompson. “It’s, ‘I’m a mom, I’m whatever they need me to be.’”
Hill hopes that Thompson knows just what an effect she has had on her family.
“She is loved all around. It will always be like that, even when my babies gotta leave her.”
For Thompson, it’s been a privilege to serve the Johnson community.
“It’s been the blessing of my whole life.”