Students will see a fresh face when they start at the Hopkins district's Gatewood Elementary in the fall — their new principal, Mark French.

French is heading to Gatewood after more than 18 years in the Osseo district, where he finishing up his year as principal at Rice Lake Elementary in Maple Grove. He'll take over in the Hopkins school July 1 as current principal Donna Montgomery retires after her 23 years as Gatewood's leader.

Last year, French won the Minnesota National Distinguished Principal award for his work at Rice Lake, commended for his empathy at school and above and beyond work. In his award win release on the Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association's website, French said he was most proud of a community service project, technology learning and school culture.

"He brings outstanding knowledge, ability and presence," said Nik Lightfoot, assistant superintendent at Hopkins Public Schools. "He will make an excellent addition to Gatewood and Hopkins Public Schools."

French's teaching career included time as a sixth-grade teacher in Houston and St. Paul Public Schools. He was an assistant principal at North End Elementary in St. Paul before coming to the Osseo district in 1998 for the principal position at Oak View Elementary. He became Rice Lake's principal in 2005.

He will take to Twitter (@PrincipalFrench) to document his activities in summer months from June 1 to August 28 using the hashtag #89DaysOfSummer.

Above: Mark French. Photo courtesy of Hopkins schools.