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Profile                                                          Page 47

 

Commitment to a Hometown

BY KATIE REGAN 

ProfileNot much has changed for Michele Taylor since graduating from Calhoun High School in 1986. She still hangs out in the cafeteria, marches with students in the band and spends her Friday nights in the stands cheering heartily for the football team. Little differs except for her ascension to the superintendency.

A native of Calhoun (population 15,650), outside Atlanta, Taylor is the ultimate home towner. She’s spent nearly her whole professional life in the city’s schools, beginning as a student teacher under the tutelage of her own 8th-grade social studies teacher. She’s worked in the classroom and as a media specialist and principal. Now, in her seventh year as superintendent, Taylor is where she always wanted to be — leading the community that gave her much.

“I had friends who saw themselves leaving and going to a bigger town or city,” Taylor says. “That’s never been a goal of mine. I saw myself staying here and giving back to the school district I was a part of. I always saw myself as part of the community.”

Becoming the top leader wasn’t in her game plan; she went to college to teach music. Along the way, supervisors encouraged her to reach higher. She quickly climbed Calhoun’s ranks.

As advanced posts took her further from the classroom, Taylor made a concerted effort to stay involved in the students’ lives. From attending spelling bees to classroom drop-ins to hallway conversations, student engagement is a fixture of her operating style. It’s a priority, she says, to support students not just through policy and management but with visible leadership.

“It’s important that (students) see we care about them not just during the school day but as individuals,” Taylor says. “It’s important they recognize that you’ve taken the time to come in on an evening or weekend. I know students welcome that.”

And Taylor certainly lives up to that philosophy. She attends every possible sports event, theater show and concert and often sends handwritten congratulatory notes to participants. She’s been known to sit through a varsity football game to its late-night end, then wake up early the next morning to drive five hours to attend a one-act student drama tournament.

Taylor, named one of four finalists for 2014 National Superintendent of the Year, says her desire to connect with students — many the children of former classmates — would happen wherever she worked but is undoubtedly heightened by her personal history with the community. As she’s been witness to nearly 30 years of change, Taylor has intimate knowledge of what measures are necessary for academic improvements. For instance, she fervently championed the construction of a new high school and middle school.

Taylor’s enthusiasm and leadership extend to the local chamber of commerce, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Her participation in the community’s 2012 Dancing with the Stars event raised $21,000 in United Way support.

“Her passion for this community is unparalleled,” says Eddie Reeves, chair of Calhoun’s board of education. “You name the group, she’s involved with it. And if she can’t be there, her principals are. She knows how to build that relationship between the school system and the community, and she truly cares.”

But at the end of the day, despite her alumna status, Taylor’s commitment to Calhoun City Schools comes back to one thing — the students.

“If folks know people value their role in life, I think that makes a difference,” she says. “That’s what I hope to do, to make a difference for some of our young people.”

Katie Regan served as School Administrator’s editorial assistant. Twitter: @katiejregan


 

BIO STATS: MICHELE TAYLOR

Currently: superintendent, Calhoun City Schools, Calhoun, Ga.

Previously: assistant superintendent, Calhoun City Schools

Age: 46

Greatest influence on career: Allene Magill, executive director for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, has been a mentor and encouraged me to become a stronger advocate for our students.

Best professional day: When our community voted to fund a new middle/high school complex to provide a safer facility more conducive to learning.

Books at bedside: The Power of Small by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval; Theodore Boone: The Activist by John Grisham; and Leap of Reason by Mario Morino

Biggest blooper: Fourteen years ago, as a new principal of an elementary school, on the morning of the first day of school, I called my superintendent to inform him things were going smoothly, though I was at the hospital in labor. My son was born that day. Students got the news over the intercom: “It’s a boy!”

Why I’m an AASA member: AASA helps superintendents connect with other leaders from similar or diverse school districts. It’s great to share ideas.

 

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