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Teachers Once Said He'd Be 'Dead by 21.' Now He's Principal

Michael Atkins worked his way up from student to custodian to top spot in Denver schools
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2019 12:19 PM CDT
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Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Ivan-balvan)

(Newser) – "I'm home." That's how Michael Atkins in June described his being named principal of Stedman Elementary School in Denver. Atkins is a product of the Denver Public Schools system, attending elementary school there, then middle school, where, Atkins said, teachers told him that a black student like himself would "be dead by the time I'm 21," per KUSA. Atkins tells the Denver Channel he hadn't planned on staying local after graduation, but when he realized he liked working with kids, he found himself sucked back into the city's schools—as a custodian for one of the middle schools. "I took pride in the bathrooms I cleaned," he tells KUSA. "I took pride in the rooms that I vacuumed."

Then one day Atkins ran into his former second-grade teacher, who helped him get into an actual classroom as a teacher's aide. From there, he worked his way up the school system's hierarchy, gaining employment as a full-fledged teacher, then assistant principal, until he finally ascended to the top spot at Stedman, where one of his main goals is to address the racial disparity he felt in Denver schools as a child. "What I want for my brown students, my black students [and] my white students is to experience diversity at a high level," he says. Atkins also passes along some nuggets of wisdom he learned from his grandmother, telling the Denver Channel: "Don't let someone write your story; make sure you write your own story." (Read more uplifting news stories.)

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