Michael Atkins had only one dream ever since graduating high school: to become a school principal. However, at first, he could only find a job as a custodian. These days, though, Atkins is working as an elementary school principal! Michael Atkins’ journey to becoming a principal was filled with ups and downs and plenty of “no”s. Still, he always had enough strength and determination to continue on. Read on to discover his incredible story…
The Custodian Who Became A Principal
Michael Atkins hails from Denver, Colorado. While in high school in Denver, he realized that he loved school and truly wanted to work with children. More than that, as he had made some mistakes, Atkins wanted to help others avoid them. With a daughter already on the way, the young man realized he could be more than just a role model for his daughter – he could be a role model for many students.
So, after high school, Atkins decided to apply to all the teacher’s assistant jobs he could find in Denver. Unfortunately, despite his passion and good intentions, everyone turned him down. Atkins didn’t know if it was because of his lack of higher education or racial issues; “When I would walk into offices within the neighborhood… I had a hard time finding anyone who would listen to me,” he recalls. Still, Atkins never lost hope or determination. So, he took the one job offer he received, a part-time position as a custodian in a local middle school.
Reconnecting With Former Second Grade Teacher
Atkins actually enjoyed his job as a custodian, especially his time with the students, teachers, and his boss, the principal. Believe it or not, he actually he the principal! She was his former second-grade teacher, Carolyn Riedlin! “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.” Still, Atkins says there were also times where he just “got comfortable” with his job position.
The hard-working custodian remained very dedicated to his job, every day. Then, one day, Riedlin summoned him to a meeting in her office. As it turns out, Riedlin had found out about Atkins’ dream and wanted to help it make it come true. In Atkins’ words, Riedlin “embraced” him and asked about his own family life and aspirations. Atkins said about Reidlin, “She was one of those teachers in elementary school who instilled a few good things into me – self-worth and love. She was very caring. She’d ask questions beyond school. Those things were meaningful.”
And so, the school principal created a job position for the dedicated custodian: Atkins became a “reading and writing paraprofessional.” Atkins felt determined to give it his all – for the students, the teachers, and himself. At the same time, he began working on his education degree and certification so he could become a teacher, which paid off immensely: later on, the school appointed him to assistant principal! But Atkins still had more to do…
Celebrating The Differences
It took months, but Atkins’ dream came true on June 1, 2019: he was appointed as the principal of Stedman Elementary School in Denver! As principal, one of Atkins’ goals is to not only encourage creative thinking among the students but also among teachers. Atkins encourages and supports teachers to try new educational methods that could cater to and reach all students. He’s also working on providing professional development courses for every staff member – including custodians.
Another one of Atkins’ strong beliefs is to celebrate the students, their background, and their story. “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.”
The former custodian is passionate about making a change in his students’ lives, creating opportunities for them which he didn’t have growing up. Teaching them about acceptance, diversity, and tolerance. “Don’t ignore color or gender – that’s ignoring my identity. Let’s celebrate those things, and let’s celebrate those differences.”