Colorado man started as school custodian, now he’s principal


(CNN) — As students walk into classrooms to start a new year, one principal in Colorado is also walking into a new school.

This administrator started off as a custodian, and he wants students to know if he can do it, they can, too.

In his 38 year of life, Stedman Elementary School’s new principal Michael Atkins has spent more than 30 as a part of the Denver Public Schools System.

His just job was as a student, with no plans to stick around after graduation.

“Growing up in Park Hill, there wasn’t many positive influences and or opportunities in the neighborhood,” Principal Michael Atkins said. “So therefore, I didn’t really have any aspirations to be in education.”

But his dreams changed.

“I wanted to see if we could go do a tour,” Atkins said.

As he checks each classroom, cleaned and ready for the upcoming school year.

The instructions he gives his custodian.

“Need to swap the tables,” Atkins said.

Are not just coming from a place of management, but from experience during Atkins’ second job with DPS.

“I was the part time custodian at Smiley Middle School which is now McAuliffe right up the street,” Atkins said.

Part time became full-time and Atkins enjoyed his work.

“There were times definitely where I got comfortable within my custodial position,” Atkins said.

But he wanted something more.

So at a time when just 2% of educators in the U.S. are African American men, Atkins saw an opportunity to be something he needed as a student, a male role model.

“A lot of my African American male students remind me of me. Not to say that they’re coming from the same situation that I came from: A household of a single mother, only engaging with my father once in my life, right?,” Atkins said. “So not really having that rock, but needing that rock often in that time.”

As he reflects on his journey from custodian to principal, Atkins remembers his grandmother’s wise words.

“Don’t let someone write your story, make sure you write your own story. And if someone has something to do with your story let them edit it, do not let them create it,” Atkins said.

As Atkins prepares for a new school year, and yet another DPS position, he hope to help edit dozens of unique stories, that each student will carry with them as they walk through these doors.


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