This former school custodian is now a principal: ‘Anything is possible’


The new school year is marking a major milestone for Michael Atkins. Nearly 20 years after starting work as a school custodian for Denver Public Schools, he’s the new principal at a local elementary school.

As Denver, Colo., news outlet KMGH-TV, the 38-year-old Atkins has been named principal of Denver’s Stedman Elementary. Atkins tells Yahoo Lifestyle that his new workplace is just three blocks from the place where his career in education began: the middle school where he worked as a part-time custodian.

The Denver native says he became a custodian in 2000, two years after graduating high school. Over the course of two and a half years, he worked both part-time and full-time as a custodian in addition to becoming an assistant facility manager. He also got his degree from Metro State University, where he minored in K-6 education.

Michael Atkins is now principal at a Denver elementary school, but he started as a custodian. (Photo: Courtesy of Michael Atkins)

“While reflecting on my personal experiences within the classroom ... I knew I had an opportunity to break some historical patterns within my community,” Atkins says of his career transition.

In his new role, he uses his unconventional career trajectory to motivate students.

“Often our youth has so many societal biases, implicit and explicit, that send the message of ‘can't,’” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My hope is to provide confidence, vision and interest in all of my students, so that they can be better today than they were yesterday and better tomorrow than they were today.

Atkins is using his story to inspire his young students. (Photo: Courtesy of Michael Atkins)

“With exposure, love, role models and hard work, anything is possible,” he adds.

And while Atkins has climbed to the top of the proverbial school food chain, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“I would love to dispel the notion that custodians are only in schools to clean bathrooms,” he says. “They are school engineers, they build, serve, fix, think innovative and keep the school safe for all.

“It takes a village!” he continues. “My custodial team has a large responsibility and I am completely aware that their work goes beyond the societal perception of a job title. I understand that everyone is a critical part of this village and without everyone's unconditional love and dedication to their work we can't validate the needs of our students.”

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