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A man in California is inspiring others for his career journey from janitor to elementary school principal.
Mike Huss, 55, is the new principal at Ione Elementary School, a K-to-6 public institution in Ione, a small city in California’s Amador County that’s roughly 34 miles southeast of Sacramento.
Huss said he attended Ione Elementary School as a child and remained a student in the district until he reached eighth grade.
As an adult, Huss was a constant figure at Ione Elementary School during the years he served as a nighttime janitor — from 1989 to 2003 — and then as a teacher from 2003 to 2022.
“For me, living it, it’s like no big deal. But former students of mine are saying, ‘You have no idea what this meant to me,'” Huss told Fox News Digital during a phone interview.
In his late teens, Huss wanted to pursue a career in athletics. His teachers, on the other hand, encouraged him to explore educational roles.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,'” Huss recalled.
Some kids would show off their school projects whenever he’d stop by to clean their classrooms.
Huss eventually fell in love — and at age 22, he took the job as overnight janitor at Ione Elementary School to support his wife, Karen, who was his girlfriend at the time. It was her lifelong dream to attend college, Huss said.
On days when he’d work double shifts, Huss said he would cross paths with students who would chat with him while they watched him clean. Others would show off their class projects whenever he’d stop by to clean their classrooms.
When he had time, Huss would play basketball or soccer with students during recess or in the hours after school.
“They included me in their lives, they shared things with me and they treated me like a friend,” Huss said. “It was really positive feedback that I would get from them, even then.”
He continued, “Looking back, it was a pretty special time because most school janitors are kind of seen and not talked to, or seen and not heard.”
When staff members at Ione Elementary School told Huss he should switch to teaching in 1996, he finally became open to the idea; his son, Matthew, was born that year.
“I just wanted to be home with him more,” Huss recalled.
He added, “I wanted to show and prove to him that you can change course and achieve something even if it’s difficult.”
Huss enrolled in and commuted to Sacramento State, nearly an hour’s drive from Ione. During that time, he said, his wife secured a job post-graduation.
The couple supported each other and shared child care duties while they both worked full time. “It wasn’t always easy,” Huss said.
“Most school janitors are kind of seen and not talked to, or seen and not heard.”
He recalled times when he and his wife would go without air-conditioning to save on bills or pick up cans on the side of roads to bring in any extra money they could.
“We were paying cash [for our educations],” Huss said. “We just didn’t want to come out with this massive debt because we wanted to be able to eventually profit from our hard work.”
The pair kept up their routine for four years and accepted help from family members when needed. Huss said that despite the challenges, he thought “it was amazing” because he finally “had a purpose.”
He also noted that he’s proud of his wife, Karen, who went on to become an air pollution specialist for the county of Sacramento.
Huss earned his degree and began teaching in 2003 — the same year his daughter, Mia, was born.
He went on to become Mia’s first and fifth-grade teacher.
“Our entire county has one school district. We have six elementary schools in our entire county,” Huss explained.
“We probably have more cows here than people. Ione is a town of 5,000,” he continued. “We’re a very small town. [We have] no stoplights, no fast food restaurants. It’s not New York City, that’s for sure. It’s mom-and-pop businesses everywhere.”
Huss said he went straight into teaching without having to be a substitute teacher.
“I literally was in the classroom from being a janitor, like the next day,” Huss said. “They trusted me and hired me.”
Huss recalled that his first class had 20 students — and he knew nearly all of them from community gatherings.
“It was just a really neat experience,” he said.
Huss said he found teaching to be a rewarding experience. He also thinks it’s important that teachers realize students don’t grow up remembering the details of their lessons; instead, they remember how a teacher made them feel.
“You remember how much they cared. You also remember the ones that don’t care as well,” Huss said. “Teachers don’t realize they have that power. They impact a student’s life forever.”
Huss said he became Ione Elementary School’s teacher-in-charge during his third year, and the role is similar to that of a vice principal.
For 16 years, he juggled both roles and took administrative and disciplinary meetings whenever Ione’s principal at that time had other tasks that took precedence.
“I didn’t see myself going anywhere else,” Huss said. “I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Huss said he was offered the role of principal a week before the 2022-2023 school year started. He said he was shocked by the offer.
“I was fully prepared to teach fifth grade,” he said. “I was really excited to teach after COVID-19.”
The transition has been tough since Huss’s new duties mean he has no time to teach. He told Fox News Digital that he misses the classroom, but he makes time to greet students in the morning, leads a weekly walk to a local park, and visits kids in class and during lunch periods when he has the chance.
This year, Ione Elementary School has 530 students and no vice principal.
“I don’t want to be one of those one- or two-year principals … I want to be present for the students.”
Huss said he handles meetings with teachers and parents, counsels students, takes care of computer needs, files paperwork with the district office and fills in when aides call out sick.
“I am blessed with a great office staff, but I’m here to support them and help them,” Huss said.
He noted that in his 19-year teaching career, he’s worked under 12 different principals.
“I don’t want to be one of those one- or two-year principals. I plan on staying for seven to 10 years if [the district] will let me,” Huss said. “I want to be present for the students.”
Knowing that he has his community’s support has been encouraging but also intimidating, Huss admitted.
“They believe in me and they support me. I don’t want to let these people down,” Huss said.
He continued, “I have to do the best I can because I have to succeed.”
Huss said he tells himself to take everything day by day and remember that even if he stumbles on something, he can try again tomorrow.
Huss also thinks of the role models who helped him get to this point in his life, including his father, who taught him the importance of having a good work ethic.
“I’m very thankful my dad taught me responsibility.”
His dad helped him get his first job cleaning a post office before school while he was in the fifth grade, he added.
“I’m very thankful my dad taught me responsibility [and a] work ethic — and doing something to the best of your ability,” Huss said.
Huss also appreciates the first group of teachers he worked with and everyone who encouraged him to do more with his life.
“I think without support … none of us can be successful,” Huss said.
“It’s really not about me. It’s about all those people in this community that pushed me and supported me and believed in me all these years in every job I’ve had in the district,” Huss concluded.
“That is what kind of pushes me forward now.”