A man who started out as a custodian at a New Jersey school district will start the next school year as an assistant principal.
Taras Petryshyn will start his new role in September, at School 14 at Clifton Public Schools in New Jersey. He was officially appointed to the position by the school board on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
“I cannot really explain how special it is,” he told CNN.
Petryshyn and his family moved from Ukraine to Clifton, New Jersey, in 1997 after they unexpectedly won a green card lottery. Then a sophomore in high school, he learned English within a year of his arrival and graduated in 2000.
In 2001, after graduation, he was hired as a custodian at his American alma mater, Clifton High School, before transferring to the administration building as a night-shift custodian.
“We didn’t have much money,” he said. His parents both cleaned for a living, so it felt natural for him to take a custodial job.
Petryshyn would work the night shift from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. and attend classes in the morning, he added.
“It sounds like a big thing, but once you’re in the routine, it just becomes part of your life,” he said.
In 2006, Petryshyn graduated with an elementary school teaching certification. He then was hired as a replacement teacher in 2007 before he was hired permanently as a 5th-grade teacher in 2008.
Petryshyn said though he loved teaching, he noticed the difference he could make for his students and fellow teachers in a leadership position. So he earned his master’s degree in educational leadership in 2014, and after interning last year at School 14, he’ll begin his administrative role in September.
“I think it’s truly amazing what he’s accomplished, not only starting as a custodian but coming to this country,” School 14 Principal James Habedank said. “It was a big hill for him to climb, and he climbed it.”
Petryshyn said his story is a lesson in hard work that he makes sure to teach his students.
“I tell them, ‘Look, I was a custodian, now I’m teaching, and you have no reason to not do your work and to succeed in life,'” Petryshyn said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”