VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) – The Lowndes High Principal knew he was a finalist for the award. But he was surprised when the announcement was made Thursday in a gym full of teachers, students, and state officials.
Wes Taylor was named the 2011 National Principal of the Year inside the Lowndes High School gym.
Nearly 3,000 students gathered to listen in on the importance of community service. Then the surprise announcement was made by the student council president and banner was unfurled, kicking off the award presentation.
Since Taylor became principal in 2003, the school has had in 13% increase in graduation and nearly tripled the number of students taking advanced placement courses.
In July he named one of six finalists.
"Certainly I'm proud," said Taylor. "I'm honored, humbled most of all, ust because I know a lot of great principals across the state of Georgia and to think I'll be representing not only principals in Georgia and across our great land, it's certainly an honor," said Taylor.
The humble principal doesn't take all the credit.
"A lot of people are responsible for the success that we enjoy at Lowndes High School. I just happen to be the guy that's in the principal's seat," said Taylor.
A committee from the National Association of Secondary Schools principals had narrowed down the choices to three principals.
"He came across loud and clear how much he cared about the school and talked very highly about his kids teachers and staff as well," said Jana Frieler, National Association of Secondary School Principals Board of directors.
As national principal of the year he'll travel representing principals, talking at conferences, and may even get to meet President Obama.
Here is what Governor Sonny Perdue had to say about Taylor--
"I am honored to congratulate Wes Taylor as the 2011 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the year. Wes' extensive career of furthering the education of Georgia's children and mentoring young teachers has set an example for others both here in Georgia and across the nation," said Governor Perdue. "His dedication to enhancing the learning experience at Lowndes High School shows not only in their increasing graduation rates or AP participation; but in the strong relationship building and individual focus that truly helps students thrive."
The award was announced at a surprise assembly at Taylor's school Wednesday. The assembly was attended by local dignitaries including State Rep. (and LHS Teacher) Amy Carter, Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant, and State Board of Education Member Dr. Elizabeth Ragsdale.
"With all of the things we have going on in education today we must have great instructional leaders to improve student achievement," said Superintendent Bryant. "That's what Wes Taylor is, an excellent instructional leader, the BEST High School instructional leader in America."
It's hard to argue with the success Taylor has led since becoming principal at Lowndes in 2003. The school has seen a 13 percent increase in graduation, and across-the-board double-digit increases in pass rates—some increases as large as 38 percent--on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests for various subgroups.
Participating 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. 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," said Lowndes Superintendent Dr. Steve Smith. "A key to his success at Lowndes High School is that Wes 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. This has resulted in the creation of a nurturing environment that seeks to bring out the best in each individual student and staff member. He is always concerned about what is in the best interest of his students and staff."
Taylor makes every effort 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' leadership, Lowndes has become a model of such personalization—especially impressive given the size of the school. We applaud Wes for his extraordinary leadership and we're proud to honor him as the new representative and ambassador of the high school principalship."
Taylor will be honored during an awards banquet on October 1 in Washington, D.C., to kick off National Principals Month. The national principal of the year search began in early 2010 as each state principal's association selected its state principal of the year. From this pool of state award winners, a panel of judges selected three middle level and three high school finalists. A national middle level winner and a national high school winner were then selected. The middle level winner will be announced in early September.
Taylor is the latest in a series of exceptional Georgia school leaders to be named national principal of the year. Previous winners include Sheila Kahrs, Haymon-Morris Middle School in Winder (2010); Mark Wilson, Morgan County High School in Madison (2009); and Molly Howard, Jefferson County High School in Louisville (2008).
The six finalists each receive a $1,500 grant. The two national award winners receive an additional grant of $3,500. The grants are used to promote the advancement of learning opportunities for students or other related investments such as capital improvements, the purchase of technology-related equipment, or funding specific educational programs.
NASSP and MetLife are strongly committed to supporting the visions of unsung school leaders. Each year the MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year program focuses attention on the outstanding work principals do in middle level and high schools across the country. These individuals are recognized for their accomplishments as high-achieving principals, all the while making a daily investment in our children's future. For more information about the MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year program and winners, please visit www.principals.org/poy.