Former elementary school janitor works his way up to principal

By DeNeeka Hill

IONE, Calif. (KCRA) – A man in California who started his career 30 years ago as a janitor is celebrating his first year as that same school’s new principal.

Decades ago, Mike Huss attended Ione Elementary School as a student. He went on to become an employee there – first as a janitor, then as a teacher, and now as a principal.

Huss said he never wanted to be an educator, but his seventh-grade teacher felt otherwise.

“I remember Mrs. Collier telling me, ‘You will be such a great teacher someday,’ and I laughed at her, not going to happen, but here I am,” he said.

Huss ended up starting as Ione Elementary School’s janitor 30 years ago. He then spent 19 years there as a teacher and now is starting his first year as the school principal.

“I was really looking forward to teaching fifth grade again, and they reached out to me and said, ‘We think you’re the leader the school needs.’ That was very humbling, and it brings chills just to say it.”

Huss credits his career to a push from family and friends. He wanted to show his young son, who was 3 years old when Huss went back to school for teaching, that you can do anything you put your mind to.

“If your dad can do this, if your dad can be the school janitor – I was coaching youth sports, maintain a good grade point average – and become a schoolteacher, you can accomplish anything in this life, son.”

Ione Elementary School Office Administrator Melanie Cortez is also a former student of the school. She said the only downfall to Huss’ transition is keeping him in the office and not in the classrooms.

“The kids aren’t used to seeing him in the office, so we have kids come in all day long [asking] ‘Is Mr. Huss busy?’ and so we’ve kind of had to say, ‘OK, let him answer emails – important stuff in there.”

For Huss, it’s about the opportunity to change a child’s life.

“Believe in one person every day that you are here help them see themselves in a different light, because that’s what people have done for me my whole life,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do; I’m trying to help students believe in themselves that they can accomplish great things if they just stay the course.”

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