Maggie Cordova Elementary Principal Stephanie Nieto high-fives a youngster headed into her first day of school Wednesday morning. Rio Rancho Public Schools estimated first-week attendance around 17,750 students throughout its campuses.
(Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

She didn’t come right out and say it, but it’s the impression one gets after chatting with Stephanie Nieto on the first day of school at Maggie Cordova Elementary: “I don’t need no stinkin’ vacation.”

Of course, her grammar would be better.

Nieto said she passed on a vacation this summer to get ready to start another year of school as the principal at Maggie Cordova Elementary. It’s her second year in charge, although she’d been the assistant principal before taking over the reins.

She’s spent nearly her whole life in Rio Rancho, after her family moved from northern New Mexico to Rio Rancho “when there was nothing here.”

Nieto’s first school in the City of Vision was the “original” Ernest Stapleton Elementary, now the home of Shining Stars Preschool for one last year. Nieto was in second grade then; she later attended Lincoln Middle School, where current Sandia Vista Elementary Principal Pat Di Vasto was a math teacher and then the assistant principal.

“I remember Stephanie Nieto as a middle-school student.  She was a member of the Young Marines,” Di Vasto said. “I always remember her being a determined young lady who was not afraid to stand up for her beliefs. She was never disrespectful to me, and I always appreciated her spunk! She was not a student of mine, but I have great memories of her in her Young Marines uniform standing with Dr. Lawrence Morrell.”

Because there wasn’t a Rio Rancho High School back then, Nieto headed down the hill, graduating from Cibola High School in 1998 — thus one year too old to have started as a junior when RRHS opened in August 1997. She played softball in her days as a Cougar.

The joy in her eyes was evident as she chatted with staff members and parents, turning their 5-year-olds over to Nieto and her staff for the yearlong adventure of kindergarten, while other parents with “veteran” MCE students just wanted to say “hi.”

Seemingly happy to be in school Wednesday morning were brothers Gage Smith, left, and Shayne Wells, among the 880 or so students happily welcomed back to Maggie Cordova Elementary by Principal Stephanie Nieto, Mayor Gregg Hull, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland and other district administrators, and Maggie Cordova staff members. (Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

“I love my job,” Nieto said, thankful for the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association’s donation of enough backpacks and school supplies for all 880 of her students.

“I added a teacher at the last minute,” she said of her school, built to handle 850 students.

As the hands on the clock approached 9 a.m., Nieto literally danced along the western entrance to the school, as first-day festivities began. She and other teachers, plus local dignitaries — including Superintendent Sue Cleveland and Mayor Gregg Hull — greeted students and parents headed into the building with high-fives, hugs and countless smiles.

A similar contingent assembled at the east side of the school to welcome those arriving on buses.

A local company was busy screen-printing T-shirts to commemorate Day 1 at “Maggie,” where staff members and the local “celebrities” chowed down on donuts, bagels, bananas and more in the teachers’ staff room before the welcoming celebration.

Day 1 of 180 or so was off to a good start. Nieto’s plans, sans vacation, went well.

“Her determination and tenacity has helped her become an outstanding leader,” Di Vasto said, always happy to see Rio Rancho students evolve into teachers. “It makes me so proud to see her in her role as principal at Maggie Cordova Elementary School. She turned out to be a lovely lady.”