As a first-year teacher, Leo Nieves ’18MSA was afraid to ask for help because he didn’t want to look like he didn’t know what he was doing. To him, that was the biggest mistake he ever made. If he had asked for help, it could have made his first year a lot easier.
Nieves learned from that mistake and now, as assistant principal at Benvenue Elementary School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, he wants to help other teachers be successful.
About Leo Nieves
Hometown: Havelock, North Carolina
Role: Assistant Principal, Benvenue Elementary School
Education: Master of School Administration, NC State College of Education; Bachelor of Music in Music Education, East Carolina University
Why He Chose Education: “I had a lot of great teachers throughout my childhood who had a huge impact on me. Those teachers gave me great opportunities to lead in various groups and functions. I enjoy working with kids and helping them navigate through life. I wanted to make a difference in the community I serve and give back to everyone that helped me reach the goals I have.”
His Advice to Aspiring Educators: “Ask questions and ask for help. Be humble in all you do and don’t be afraid to ask when you need help. This is a tough job, but the payoff is totally worth it! ”
“I am motivated to help my teachers daily so our students are provided with great instruction. I love seeing teachers be successful in what they do and if I can help a little, that is a great feeling,” he said.
His willingness to help and support did not go unnoticed as Nieves has been named the 2020-21 Nash County Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year.
“I am very humbled and honored to receive this recognition. I have worked very hard since I have moved into administration, so that I am able to serve all in the way that they deserve,” Nieves said. “This recognition lets me know that I am on the right track and I plan to continue to work hard for the good of others.”
For the past three years, Nieves has served as an assistant principal at Benvenue Elementary School. Prior to moving into administration, he spent 14 years as director of bands at Nash Central High School, where he was the 2012-13 Nash Central High School Teacher of the Year.
Nieves decided to transition into administration because he wanted to make a bigger impact. He not only wanted to impact the students he taught in his classroom, but he wanted to support teachers and help them grow.
“When I was Teacher of the Year at my school, I had a great superintendent and principal who saw the potential in me. It took four years before I realized what they saw in me, but the opportunities they gave me laid the foundation to me wanting to move toward administration,” he said. “I felt the need to lead and serve others in this capacity. I wanted to be the type of administrator to teachers and students that I wanted while I was a teacher.”
To accomplish that goal, Nieves decided to pursue a Master of School Administration through the NC State College of Education’s Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA). He was drawn to NC State, he says, because of the college’s reputation for being one of the best in the nation.
“The Northeast Leadership Academy provided such a unique opportunity and I knew several members of previous cohorts that spoke highly about it. If I was going to move out of the classroom as a teacher, I wanted to be in the best program possible to help set me up for success as an administrator,” he said.
NELA, Nieves said, provided him with a wide range of educational experiences, from digging into data, to learning about crucial conversations, to learning about how people tick.
“Everything I experienced had a purpose behind it. My experience at NC State gave me the total package type of experience that I could not get anywhere else,” he said. “When I graduated from NC State, I was more than prepared to be successful due to the opportunities I had while I was there.”
One of those experiences was a trip to Singapore, which impacted Nieves the most. He was able to travel with other students to the other side of the world and see education through a different lens. He was also able to network and make connections with administrators and teachers from around the world — many of whom he still keeps in touch with today.
Nieves said he is very grateful to NC State for helping him grow as an educator and person.
“I enjoy being in a position that gives me the opportunity to make a difference. Education is a very hard profession and if I can be a support and light to others to be successful in their areas, then I have accomplished my goal of serving others to the best of my abilities,” Nieves said.