BURNSVILLE, Minn. — Back in 2017, KARE 11's Boyd Huppert featured Gideon Pond Elementary School in his Land of 10,000 Stories, as then-principal Chris Bellmont worried about finding teachers who looked like the students they serve at school.
Now, five years later, that elementary school in Burnsville has a new principal.
And while the title "principal," may be a singular title, Salma Hussein lives many versions of it.
"I love the jersey! What team do you play on?" Hussein asked a student as they all made their way into the cafeteria for lunch.
During lunchtime, she's not only the principal, but she's also the chief surveyor, asking how everyone's food is.
She's the chief encouragement officer, too, as compliments roll out of her mouth. And the words are genuine, often remarking on the unseen characteristics of children.
"You are all pretty awesome," she said to a table. "I love your confidence," she said to a kid directly to her right.
"You're beautiful!" she said to another girl hiding her face. "Let me see your smile!"
But out of all the roles she plays, the biggest one may be that of a good friend.
"My dad came from Somalia," a kid said to her.
"Your dad came from Somalia? I come from Somalia, too!" Hussein said with glee.
"My mom comes from Kenya," the kid rebutted.
"Whoa, that's so cool," Hussein responded.
After hearing about Gideon Pond's efforts to hire more Somali educators, Hussein said she found her calling. She said she remembers watching Huppert's story on Hudayfi Barsug and then-principal Chris Bellmont, who hired Hudayfi as an educational assistant.
"I still watch that video for inspiration," she said. "I never thought I would be sitting at this desk as the principal of that same school."
Hussein is the first Somali woman to be a principal in Minnesota. That's yet another title she does not take lightly.
"My goal is to make sure that I'm not the last, my goal is to make sure that every district, sees amazing people who care about children who give people the access and opportunity to lead," she added.
And Dr. Chris Bellmont is now the assistant superintendent in the district. He said he could not be happier for his former stomping grounds to be under such great leadership.
"Just seeing how students responded seeing staff members that look like them and perhaps knew some more about their culture and customs, language," he beamed.
Hussein said she also wanted to highlight the work of allies such as Bellmont.
"It is through his leadership that more families have chosen Gideon Pond because they feel that here, their child is seen, for who they are, and their culture is embraced," she said.
And that kind of leadership is one that leads with love and lots of hugs.
"That we matter, and that our culture and ways of being are important, that we don't have to change and assimilate in order to belong, and be part of the Gideon Pond community," Hussein said.
Watch more local news:
Watch the latest local news from the Twin Cities in our YouTube playlist: