When he turned 30, Nate Munoz set a goal to become an assistant principal in five years. On his 35th birthday, he started that job at South Albany High School.
Then he set another goal: to be a school principal by age 40. But the universe, the Powers That Be and Superintendent Jim Golden of Greater Albany Public Schools had a different idea.
After Principal Brent Belveal retires this July, Munoz will take over as interim principal of South Albany High School, just before his 37th birthday.
Golden made the announcement Wednesday via the school district's website. He praised Munoz for instituting Rebels Rising, an after-school enrichment and intervention program, and Juntos, which works with families to help provide access to higher education.
"Nate has the respect of the staff and students at SAHS," Golden said.
The district has said Munoz's appointment will allow the school to maintain consistency in vision and leadership to continue making progress toward student achievement goals, while it decides whether or not to seek a different permanent replacement.
Munoz said he's excited to get started in his new position.
"For me to have the opportunity to do something like this was a little hard to pass up," he quipped.
Munoz grew up in Nampa, Idaho, one of four children in a single-parent family.
His mother never made it past the fifth grade, and Munoz said he struggled academically too, just managing to scrape out a diploma from Nampa High School in 1999.
But teachers and coaches saw his potential and poured out love, encouragement and support, Munoz said. He decided he wanted to become one of them.
"Education changed my life," he said. "It's not just a passion. It's a responsibility."
Munoz earned a bachelor's degree in recreational management from Northwest Nazarene University. He was director of a Boys & Girls Club all during college and thought that would be his field at first.
Through teaching, however, he felt he could make a bigger impact. So he worked 10 years for the Redmond School District, teaching leadership and language arts at Redmond High School, coaching boys basketball and serving as the community school coordinator.
Along the way, he earned two master's degrees: the first in assessment and instruction at Jones International in Colorado, the second in educational leadership through Concordia University of Chicago. He also had four children, two of whom will be at South this fall.
When Munoz was interviewing at South Albany High School for the assistant principal position, he was asked whether he had any questions. Yes, he said: He wanted to know why his interviewers liked working at South.
"They couldn't stop raving," he said, remembering how excited everyone was about the students, their jobs and their coworkers. "You could feel it. It was very genuine. That's when I was hoping to join them."
Munoz said he plans no major changes for his first year in the driver's seat. He'll continue to build relationships with students, he said, along with assessing current programs and interventions and working with his administrative team to craft a three-year plan.
Belveal is leading a research team into the question of whether South Albany, currently known as the Rebels, should change its team name and associated imagery. Munoz said he believes that question will be settled before Belveal's retirement, but he'll wait to see what the immediate future brings.
Munoz said his favorite thing about being at South is the culture: the hard work of the students, the service mindset of teachers and staff, and the way everyone shows respect.
He can see himself in the students who walk the high school's halls. Many of them are growing up in poverty, just like he did. Many of them are struggling, trying to find a future. Many of them are fearful, a sensation he knows well.
"I still fight the poverty mindset every day. The difference is, I don't let fear stop me," he said. "The fear never goes away. Just don't let it control your decision-making."
In a way, taking over at South will be a birthday present for Munoz's mother as well as himself, he said. She continues to work 12- to 15-hour days to support the family and was never able to make it to any of Munoz's basketball or football games, but never failed to tell her children they were capable of seizing any opportunity life had to offer.
"Watching her do what she's done — she's my hero because of that," Munoz said. "She didn't get the opportunities I got. She would say, 'Don't waste this. Do something with your life.'"
Munoz said he plans to keep doing just that.
"This high school's awesome," he said. "I'm inheriting something pretty special. I hope to make the South Albany community proud — I really do."