Man who started as custodian becomes school’s principal

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DENVER (KMDH/CNN) – An elementary school is welcoming a new principal, a man who used to be a custodian in the same school district.

In his 38 years of life, Stedman Elementary School Principal Michael Atkins has spent more than 30 years as a part of the Denver Public School System.

His first “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 so therefore, I didn’t really have any aspirations to be in education.” Atkins said.

But his dreams changed.

As he checked to see if each classroom is cleaned and ready for the upcoming school year, he gave his custodian instructions not just coming from a place of management but from experience during his second job with the school district.

“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 said he enjoyed his work.

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

But he wanted something more.

So at a time when just 2 percent of educators in the U.S. are African American, 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? So not really having that rock, but needing that rock often in that time,” Atkins said.

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,” he said.

As Atkins prepares for a new school year and yet another school system position, he said he hopes to help edit dozens of unique stories that each student will carry with them.

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