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Cougar Interview—Robert Taylor, M.A. ’97, Ed.D. ’06

by University Relations

Robert Taylor, M.A. ’97, Ed.D. ’06, became superintendent of the Walnut Valley Unified School District (WVUSD) on July 1, 2013, after serving as a teacher and principal, in addition to numerous administrative roles in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District and as deputy superintendent in Corona-Norco Unified School District. With two degrees from APU, he comes prepared to lead one of the state’s highest-performing districts faced with significant fiscal challenges.

APU LIFE: What are the most important characteristics of an effective superintendent?

Taylor: First and foremost, the superintendent’s ideals and belief system must align with the district’s values and priorities. Some focus on scores, others on prestigious programs, and so on. I am fortunate to serve a district that puts kids first. This belief system is most evident in the compassion and commitment that the educators display toward students. They go above and beyond to help students, often without public recognition. The board shares the same commitment, and their decision- making process reflects this posture. Even as an administrator, I remain most passionate about teaching and learning. The key to education is what occurs in the classroom.

APU LIFE: What strategies will you employ to improve education?

Taylor: I believe that every district in every state shares some of the same goals and challenges. I intend to build strong relationships with teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and community members. I have implemented a “listening campaign” where I meet individually with at least 90 people within our community during my first 90 days on the job. The information and history I have acquired from district employees, city officials, service-oriented community members, parents, etc., as well as the relationships we have begun to form, will have a lasting impact on how and where we guide the district in the future. The challenges WVUSD faces call for teamwork. It is important to keep an ongoing dialogue with teachers and help them identify relevant professional development opportunities that will inspire them and enhance their effectiveness in the classroom. Continual monitoring of best practices and creative teaching techniques makes all the difference. Parents also play an integral role because education is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Collaboration from parents and community members strengthens the curriculum, the support system, and the success of our students.

APU LIFE: What challenges face K–12 schools today, and how do you plan to address them?

Taylor: At our Annual Welcome Back Celebration, I shared with more than 1,000 employees how fortunate we are as educators to be at the center of perhaps the most monumental change in education witnessed in at least several decades. It’s an awesome opportunity and challenge. Two major changes face our schools. First, the new Common Core State Standards go into full effect nationwide by the 2014–15 academic year. This represents a paradigm shift in how we approach curriculum, how we assess student progress, and our overall expectations of K–12 education. High-performing districts like WVUSD will do well to maintain the factors that have contributed to past success, such as top-caliber teachers able to infuse their trademark creativity into the new system. The second area involves implementing a new fiscal structure for education in California, better known as the Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula, while dealing with the declining fiscal health of the state’s education system. I remain optimistic and view this as an exciting opportunity to rise to the challenge and demonstrate our mettle as educators. I plan to communicate regularly and openly with administrators so that we have clarity and transparency as we move ahead. We will overcome these challenges collaboratively and work toward the common goal of aligning our budget with district standards and achieving a fiscally solvent organization.

APU LIFE: What aspects of your APU education impacted your role most prominently?

Taylor: At APU, I gained a deep understanding of the importance of leaders at all levels of an organization. Each professor underscored that good leaders value people. Because of this, I make it my policy to be accessible and approachable with a can-do attitude. I hope that by modeling this, I encourage leaders at each school to be readily available to their teams. Further, I can’t emphasize enough my strong belief that every child matters—another foundational truth I gained a greater appreciation for at APU. Each district comprises hundreds of students from different backgrounds, cultures, and philosophies. We need to identify and respond to all of their educational needs. In this way, we can foster the success of each student regardless of the obstacles we meet along the way.

Originally published in the Winter '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).