Taylor gives his view from the top
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 12, 2008 2:00 AM
Wayne County Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor answers questions in his Goldsboro office.
There is no perfect school system and always room for improvement, but as Dr. Steven Taylor enters his ninth year as superintendent of Wayne County Public Schools, he says he is resolute about the ongoing efforts being made to help students succeed both in the classroom and beyond.
During a recent interview with the News-Argus, Dr. Taylor outlined some of the goals he has for the district as well as some of his concerns.
News-Argus: Recently, the district held its first Kitchen Table Conversation, designed to elicit solutions from the community through positive suggestions. What about other concerns many have about the schools?
Taylor: The Kitchen Table Conversations were certainly not designed to have everything said be positive. It was a round table (discussion) where people from all walks of life can sit around that table and honestly share their ideas.
We take the positives and negatives as they come, and see if they have something that would be useful and could be implemented in our system and make a difference. Obviously no group or entity has all the answers.
Our idea was to involve anybody that wanted to come -- elected officials, parents -- the intent was not for it to all be positive.
With a smaller group, I think people feel more comfortable sitting around a table, who might be hesitant to speak publicly. It makes for a comfortable setting for people to make their suggestions.
Last year, we had discussions with the business people and county commission. I think that was a bold move, to move forward with solutions to complement our school system.
We previously had community meetings about the facilities plan, more of an open forum-type thing.
(The kitchen table conversations) are the next step. I think it's an exciting way, a new and creative way, to gather community input. If everybody doesn't come and take advantage of it, we step up to the plate to provide that avenue.
N-A: What do you see as some of the pressing needs in the school district?
Taylor: Typically we have issues in hiring special ed teachers. Math and science teachers are also hard to find.
We are like every other school district in North Carolina and the U.S. -- there's a teacher shortage. We're trying to do everything we can to visit those states and locations on our recruitment trips.
Once those teachers get here, you have to retain them. Research I have looked at since I have been superintendent says the No. 1 reason that teachers leave is lack of administrative support. ... I don't ever want a teacher to leave Wayne County because they don't feel supported.
N-A: What about question about empty classrooms in the district?
Taylor: The space that people think is available is not available. After you take out all the space for programs and offices, there's no space.
Edgewood numbers have grow. We had to move some teachers to Goldsboro Intermediate to open up space (at Edgewood) for students.
We use the formula that Evergreen gave us to look at capacity levels.
I think there's a perception, particularly with people who maybe were aware of what the capacity levels were years before we added all these additional programs. I can create space at every school- but then where would these programs go?
N-A: Funding has long been an issue for the district. With the shifting economy, what effect is that having on the facilities plan?
Taylor: From day one, we have been concerned with regard to would we be able to secure the funding that was needed.
Obviously with the economy like it is, certainly there's a concern for us because we know that could impact funding for these projects (in the current $22 million facilities plan).
I don't have any indication that this is not going to go through. I know (County Manager Lee) Smith will work as hard as he can.
The bottom line is, we have no control of any of that. All we can do is continue following the process, doing all the things that we have to do to move this Phase One forward and we'll continue to do that unless we're put on hold. We hope and pray that will not happen.
We're not any different that anyone else out there. We're all in the same boat. ... Certainly our hope is that the economic losses in N.C. and the U.S. will not affect the lottery (funds) that come in.
N-A: You have not spoken out a lot during this process. Can you speak openly or are you constrained by the Board of Education?
Taylor: The Board of Education meeting is the board's meeting. The items have obviously been generated from the administration. So when it gets to the board meeting, it's for them to discuss and then take action.
Because we're set up by committee process, most of the discussion is handled in those meetings.
It's not written anywhere that the superintendent does all the talking. That's how we have handled it for my eight years as superintendent. Most of my work has been done before I go to the school board meeting.
I have a staff that has expertise in various areas. It would be impossible for a superintendent to have a comment on everything that we discuss.
N-A: As superintendent, what are your biggest concerns?
Taylor: A major thing that we have to do every year is continue to meet all the standards of ABC and No Child Left Behind. I think last year was our best year ever with regard to making AYP, making growth, SAT scores and graduation rates.
Everything improved last year, but at the same time we're not at 100 percent in any of those areas. No Child Left Behind expects 100 percent by 2013. That's a noble goal that will strive toward.
It's always a concern to continually annually meet that, particularly when the bar is raised every year.
(Other areas mentioned included the facilities plan, better communication with parents, furthering the working relationship with the business community, and reform toward preparing students for school as well as college and the workforce -- from the expansion of the Wee Wings preschool program to the addition of Freshman Academies and career academies at each of the high schools.)
To improve the graduation rate, we're going to have to continue to provide these types of programs, and we'll be ahead of the curve. When you look at all those things that we have put in place the last several years, that's why our graduation rate is higher than it's been.
All of these things, strategies and programs, it takes time for it to work. It's not a 24-hour overnight success.
N-A: Every organization has areas they want to improve, a list of goals. What would you still like to see accomplished?
Taylor: The challenges I laid out for 2008-09, at the top, No Child Left Behind and the ABCs -- continue to improve in those areas. Second, stay the course with the "effective schools" seven correlates (safe and orderly environment, high expectations, strong instructional leadership, clear and focused mission, opportunity to learn and high time on task, frequent monitoring of student progress and good home/school relations), in place before I became superintendent.
We're requiring every school to have in place a mentoring program for every student that needs it; increase our graduation rate and improve the dropout rate; recruit and retain highly qualified teachers; continue the second-year Raising the Achievement Gap Task Force; facilities plan progress; improving safety in our schools; mandated by the state, a new evaluation process for principals; and, with regard to childhood obesity, offering p.e. classes and providing healthier choices at meals.
Attending workshops and conferences, our goal is to find things that we can bring back and implement here. But I also want our district to be a place where people come and get ideas from us.
N-A: Any plans to retire in the next couple of years?
Taylor: No plans to retire at this time. There are some things I want to see through, the facilities plan for one. I have been working with this for eight years now, starting my ninth year. I want to see some finality to these things.
This is a tough job, and you don't always make everybody happy. I have learned to take the criticism that comes with the job. Nobody likes to be criticized, but it goes with the territory.
I try to do what's right for children. My philosophy has always been, you can't recycle children, you have to get it right the first time.
I have appreciated the board's support, a tremendous leadership team and hard-working group of principals and staff. We put children first, and I think if you put children first, then your priorities are in the right order.
We're going to make some mistakes along the way but I think we have done some good things ... I don't want to take all the credit and put all the blame on everybody else, but it's a good team.
With 33 schools, some 19,000-plus students you're going to have issues. But we always try to be real deliberate considering all the factors and making all the decisions. We certainly try to promote programs we think will benefit students.
While Taylor said he has been "proud and pleased" to be associated with Wayne County Public Schools, he said parental involvement is one area he continues to see lacking.
"The schools can't do it all. We need some help -- working on homework, whatever has to be done to encourage them," he said.
"The reward that I get is seeing the accomplishments of our students and also the work of our staff working with these students because that's what it's all about -- having these students graduate and go to college or the military or into the workforce. We can always improve and will continue to strive to do that."
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