New school chief Taylor hits ground running
New East Baton Rouge Parish school Superintendent Bernard Taylor spent Monday, his first day on the job, in a series of meetings, making decisions in preparation for the start of the new school year on Aug. 8.
“If you think about it, that’s just six weeks away,” Taylor said. “We have a lot to do in a very short period of time.”
At his last job, as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the past six years, Taylor had until after Labor Day to get ready for the new school year.
Taylor’s entire time in Baton Rouge has been on an accelerated schedule. He was selected unanimously by the parish School Board on March 22. Three weeks later, on April 12, he was already testifying before the state Legislature against an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a new southeast Baton Rouge school district that would break away from the parish school system. The legislation is likely to come back in the future.
“Most people don’t have something like that going on when they’re in transition,” Taylor said.
“It took a lot of time, but it was a good introduction,” he added.
Taylor said he plans to speak to the advocates of the proposed breakaway district to see if they can find common ground.
“It is important that we talk to those who are integral to that legislation to find out, how can we work together?” Taylor said.
Also on Taylor’s agenda are reorganizing Central Office staff, selecting new principals and reopening Lee High School.
His office remained unadorned Monday. It’s been emptied of any signs of John Dilworth, who left in February after 32 months on the job, and Carlos Sam, who was interim superintendent for three months.
Taylor said he has boxes at his new residence in Baton Rouge filled with office paraphernalia that he has yet to go through much less bring into his new office.
A heavy downpour Monday morning led him to postpone for a day a planned visit to see the $58.2 million renovation and expansion of Baton Rouge Magnet High School, which is reopening in August. He also didn’t manage to get over to a Michelli Drive office where district employees make badges for new employees like him.
“The day just got away from me,” he said.
One task that Taylor did accomplish Monday was to meet everyone in the school system’s Central Office on 1050 S. Foster Drive.
He was escorted around the building by Jamie Manda, a 32-year veteran of the school system and the administrative assistant to several previous superintendents. This particular tour, for an incoming superintendent, is one she is familiar with.
“This is my eighth tour,” Manda noted.
Taylor was greeted warmly as he went around the building over the course of an hour. He was struck again and again by the close quarters that many school employees work in. He also commented on how employees manage to store all their voluminous files at their cubicles.
Taylor said he’s used to having a bit more space in Grand Rapids.
“I will never complain again about lack of space,” he said.
Taylor has already announced plans to reshuffle space in Central Office. He persuaded the School Board on June 7 to reorganize top staff, has already hired two new lieutenants who are starting July 1, has other new vacant positions listed on a new still-being-developed organizational chart, and plans to trim other Central Office positions and send other employees to work in schools.
Taylor will make some moves when the School Board meets Thursday, he said, including appointing some principals. Glen Oaks High, a reopening Lee High, Mayfair Middle and Tara High are leaderless at the moment.
Taylor also is settling on what to do with the new Lee. The old high school closed in 2009. Its reopening in August was the subject of a community forum Taylor led Thursday.
“It’s important to hit the ground running because an organization doesn’t just start and stop because the leadership changes,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he’s getting acclimated to his new home and he’s starting to get noticed.
“I think that people give you that look like you look familiar, but it’s that, ‘You look familiar but I really don’t know why you look familiar,’ ” Taylor said.
His new home is getting noticed too, by his family members. It’s much less cold than past homes in Grand Rapids and Kansas City, Mo., where he served as superintendent for five years, as well as his hometown of Pittsburgh.
“They can’t wait,” he said, beaming a big smile. “They like the weather, like the Essence Fest, they like going to the football games …”
“I mean people were ecstatic, ‘You’re moving someplace warm,’ ” he said.