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Editor’s Note: Leshaun Jenkins is a first-year principal in Edgecombe County Public Schools. He is going to be posting throughout the year about his day-to-day experiences, and you can follow along with his journey by going to #PrincipalDiary on Facebook. We wanted you to have a chance to get to know him.
Leshaun Jenkins is a leader who is earnest and joyful when sharing about his faith, pride in being an East Carolina University (ECU) alum, fandom for college athletics, and ritual of watching “Good Times” in his recliner to unwind after a long day.
All who are connected to him know that he is adamant when he says: “I have been called to educate, and my joy comes from that.”
Where it all began
After over 20 years of being an educator, Jenkins is continuing to lead and teach while learning and growing on the road to completing his first year as a principal in the same area where he grew up.
Seated in Edgecombe County, Pinetops is the small town in Eastern North Carolina that Jenkins calls home. He names his mother, grade school teachers, and coaches as being early influential figures in his life.
Jenkins specifically offers gratitude and recognition to his mother for not only raising him, but for giving him a gift that continues to impact his life: tennis.
“I have some very warm memories of my mom,” he said. “Seeing her work so hard to ensure that we had the best opportunity to be successful was major. We didn’t always have the best stuff, but we had the best opportunity.”
At 3 years old, Jenkins received his first tennis racket, which ignited his interest and led to an athletic career that extended to college and competitive adult leagues. Jenkins would grow to be a standout tennis player. The same is true regarding his high school soccer career. In his time attending Southwest Edgecombe High School, he earned All-Conference, Player of the Year, MVP, and other accolades between both sports.
Upon graduating high school in 1996, Jenkins accepted the opportunity to become a Division 1 student-athlete at ECU. This accomplishment made him the second player of color in the men’s tennis program. Jenkins’ participation also earned him the Prestigious Pirate Award, given to one player from each athletic team annually.
The call to be an educator
Along with his athletic advancement emerged a passion for learning about different locations and cultures. This was largely in part thanks to his academic studies: he earned his bachelor’s degree, double majoring in history and political science with French and political systems as minors.
“I knew at an early age I wanted to be a teacher. I always had great teachers,” he said. “I wanted to help kids who grew up in marginalized communities like me.”
Life after ECU consisted of Jenkins answering the call to return home, embarking on a new journey in the field of education. As a 22-year-old recent college graduate, he began what would become his first of 16 years as a high school teacher. For the first seven years, Jenkins taught world history at Tarboro High School (THS). In the years following, he taught civics and economics, in addition to writing and teaching the curriculum for global studies.
Jenkins’ impact as an educator inside and outside of the classroom was amplified by two things: traveling and coaching.
Coach Jenkins’ lessons from abroad
Jenkins was a classroom teacher who felt that students needed to be globally connected, which compelled him to maintain a global focus in his courses. Putting actions behind the messaging, he took his first trip in 2006 to provide medical services to individuals living in Limon, Costa Rica.
That was followed by a 2009 mission trip to prisons in Kigali, Rwanda. While Jenkins aims to stay abreast of current events throughout the entire global community, in 2012 he found a deep attachment to one particular country.
Jenkins has dedicated seven consecutive summers to traveling to Haiti, focusing on community development and aid. Among the services contributed, Jenkins’ background as a soccer player surfaced, allowing him to support camps and fundraising for soccer equipment.
“That first trip showed me that medical health care disparities are real, and heightened my sensitivity,” he said. “Rwanda showed me that good people do bad things, and we should always offer forgiveness and unmerited grace… and then Haiti showed me, in the spirit of when you’re at rock bottom, that there’s still hope there as well.”
Throughout his 16 years as a teacher in Tarboro, Jenkins also served as a coach with the school’s basketball, soccer, and tennis programs. Over the course of seasons, he was recognized as Coach of the Year 18 times, in addition to accruing a total of 13 conference championships.
While still serving as a teacher, he even had an opportunity to coach soccer at the collegiate level at North Carolina Wesleyan University for four years.
Making the pivot
It was at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year that Jenkins felt called upon once more. Having faced the difficult decision to leave the classroom as a teacher at THS, he made the transition into K-12 administration.
During this period, Jenkins began pursuing his masters in school administration via NC State University’s Educational Leadership Academy (NELA). Simultaneously, in his first year as an administrator, he divided his time between two schools, becoming the assistant principal at both Princeville Elementary and Phillips Middle School in Edgecombe County.
In year two, Jenkins was assistant principal solely at Princeville. This was followed by his return to THS, where he served in the same capacity. After three years at Tarboro High, Jenkins embraced being “pulled” into a three-month interim position as principal of W.A. Pattillo Middle School in Tarboro.
Recognize ‘the pull’
Jenkins vulnerably disclosed his reluctance for stepping up to the position. Despite his love for the work and the students, Jenkins expressed that he still felt the wear and tear, the emotional drain of education. This made him hesitant to accept a higher seat accompanied by more responsibility and stress.
Evidently, he conceded to the pull that brought him to Pattillo.
“I didn’t know what it was about,” he said, “I just have been living long enough that I know that pull and I knew I had to be obedient to that pull.”
The school year came to a close, but Jenkins entered the summer with the attitude of “we’re just getting started.” After making a significant impact in his short interim period, Jenkins accepted the role as principal for Pattillo at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.
Jenkins has a lot of hope for the school.
“I have a vision for what I think kids’ experiences should be, and so I’m just trying to piece together all the pieces to make that happen,” he said. “I believe that school can be a place where kids jump up in the morning and are anxious to get dressed and go to school. I believe that school can be the place where teachers anxiously get up and get dressed, and get to school. And not just because it’s Friday. I believe school can be that utopia and communities get like people look and say: ‘I’m so glad that school is in my community.’”