Georgia's new school superintendent of the year, Dr. Michele Taylor, is described as a "practical dreamer" in the nomination submitted on her behalf. She dreams big dreams, then finds a practical way to make them happen, Calhoun City Schools board Chairwoman Amy Atkinson wrote in the application.
The judges evidently took Atkinson's evaluation and other endorsement letters from the Gordon County community to heart, because Taylor received the state's top honor a few days ago at the Georgia School Board Association's annual conference. She's now Georgia's representative for National School Superintendent of the Year, and finalists will be announced in January.
Michele Williams Taylor is a hometown product, a graduate of Calhoun High School, a former classroom teacher and principal who worked her way up the ranks. She was chosen to fill the system's top post seven years ago.
On the day of this interview, Taylor, a mother of two Calhoun students, stood in perhaps the most ambitious of her dreams: the system's new state-of-the-art, 170,000-square-foot Calhoun High School physical plant.
The complex opened its doors at the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year, and an adjacent middle school complex is under construction. The multiphase project was financed by a sales tax referendum that some worried couldn't be approved. But Taylor found a practical way to sell the need.
"When I became superintendent in 2007, I was taxed with keeping our students safe, to give them healthy places that are conducive to learning," she said in August to those gathered to open the new school. "Unfortunately, our flagship high school failed in all those areas. We knew we needed a new middle and high school, and it wasn't about a new, shiny building. It truly was about creating a healthy, safe environment for our future."
Taylor is surprised and delighted by the recognition that has come her way. On her return to Calhoun, she was honored with student-led observances at each of the school campuses and a community reception coordinated by the high school culinary arts department. However, she insisted she would not have received the honor had it not been for the team she leads.
"We're blessed, really blessed, to have students and teachers, staff and parents, this entire community really, that rallies around our kids and our schools," she said. "It really makes a difference."
Taylor pointed to the school's 100 percent participation rate for recent parent-teacher conferences as validation of the community's belief in the system.
When her selection as a finalist required her to submit more information, she turned to the high school's video arts department. Taylor allowed students to create one of the most vital components of her submission, and said she was blown away by their degree of professionalism during the filming.
"They even had me bring several changes of clothing as we traveled to each filming location," Taylor said. "That's how detailed and organized they were."
When Taylor realized at a school event that she had been chosen superintendent of the year, she understood why so many of her staff suddenly had appeared. She addressed her colleagues and paid tribute to employees, volunteers and local community leaders. In her mind, that's the only way she could have won the competition, and she insisted on sharing the honor.
John Shivers is based in Calhoun. Contact him at email@example.com.