Former Colorado School Custodian Becomes Principal of Elementary in the Same District

Michael Atkins is now principal of Stedman Elementary School in Denver after serving in many positions, but starting as a custodian

A former school custodian, who climbed up the ranks of the educational system, was named principal of an an elementary school earlier this year.

Growing up, Michael Atkins hadn’t considered working in public education. But after graduating high school with a daughter on the way, he found himself wanting to work with children, and soon applied to become a teacher’s assistant at schools around his home in Denver, he recalled to KMGH.

But he was faced with a roadblock when none of the schools offered him a job.

“When I would walk into offices within the neighborhood… I had a hard time finding anyone who would listen to me,” Atkins, 39, recalled to Today.

When he didn’t receive any opportunities to become an assistant, Atkins settled for a role as a part-time custodian in a local middle school.

“There were times where I got comfortable within my custodial position, and I loved the work,” Atkins told KMGH. “I loved the people that I met. I was still able to be in front of youth. But I knew that was just the first chapter of my journey.”

Michael Atkins

That’s when Atkins’ former second-grade teacher, Carolyn Riedlin — now a principal at the middle school — lent him a helping hand after hearing about his career aspirations.

“She embraced me, asked about my family. I told her how I wanted to work with kids,” Atkins recalled to the BBC.

Riedlin created a new role for Atkins as a reading and writing paraprofessional at the school.

“She was one of those teachers in elementary school who instilled a few good things into me — self-worth and love,” Atkins said of his former teacher. “She was very caring. She’d ask questions beyond school. Those things were meaningful.”

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During that time, Atkins worked on earning a degree and certification and soon became a teacher. Then, he was promoted to assistant principal.

But he didn’t stop there.

Earlier this year on June 1, Atkins started as principal of Stedman Elementary School in northeast Denver, far surpassing the goal he set out for himself so long ago.

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

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