It's hard to argue with 2011 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year Wesley Taylor's success since becoming principal at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, GA, in 2003.
The school has seen a 13% increase in graduation, and across-the-board double-digit increases in pass rates—some increases as large as 38%—on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests for various subgroups. Participation in Advanced Placement (AP) classes has nearly tripled under Taylor's watch to 446 students in 2009, with similar increases in the number of students receiving a score of 3 or higher on AP tests. The improvements can be attributed largely to Taylor's fostering a culture of collaboration among teachers and a college-going culture among students.
"Wes Taylor is the epitome of a team builder," said Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Steven Smith. "Wes empowers others to assist him in the leadership of Lowndes High School. He sets high expectations for himself and he motivates those around him to aspire to the same lofty expectations. Wes shuns the spotlight and focuses the attention on his staff and students for their accomplishments."
Taylor promotes a philosophy that all students "should fit into some niche" and that every student has the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with an adult, Smith continued. This has resulted in the creation of a nurturing environment that seeks to bring out the best in each individual student and staff member.
Taylor strives to make his large school of nearly 3,000 students feel small so every student feels recognized and respected. He provides each teacher a visual reminder of the importance of considering the needs of every student: a brick with the words inscribed, "Just another brick in the wall?" Teachers keep the brick on their desks and they report that it's a powerful symbol that reminds them that, although thousands of students enter the school doors each day, each is an individual with particular strengths, needs, and areas for improvement.
"Personalization of the school environment is a cornerstone of NASSP's Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement," said NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi. "Under Wes's leadership, Lowndes has become a model of such personalization—especially impressive given the size of the school. We're proud to honor Wes as the new representative of and ambassador for the high school principalship."
"We applaud Wes Taylor for his innovative methods to motivate teachers, challenge students and create a collaborative learning environment," said Thomas G. Hogan, Jr., senior vice president and head of MetLife Resources. "His efforts are helping students to realize their potential and are creating a brighter future for the community."
"It is important to recognize outstanding school leadership," said Dennis White, vice president of Corporate Contributions for MetLife. "The MetLife/NASSP Principal of the Year program acknowledges both the crucial role of principals as leaders and individuals who go above and beyond to make their schools the best they can be for students, teachers, and communities."
Taylor will be honored during an awards banquet on October 1 in Washington, D.C., to kick off National Principals Month.
Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt