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Dr. Robert Taylor discusses goals,...

Dr. Robert Taylor discusses goals, priorities as new Mississippi State Superintendent

By: Anne Summerhays - November 28, 2022

Dr. Robert Taylor

Taylor will lead the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) starting in late January 2023.

Last week, Dr. Robert Taylor, a 30-year veteran educator and deputy state superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, was named Mississippi’s new state superintendent of education by the State Board of Education.

Taylor is a native Mississippian and a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi.

READ MORE: TAYLOR NAMED NEW MISSISSIPPI STATE SUPERINTENDENT. 

On Monday, Dr. Taylor addressed his goals, priorities, and more with members of the state’s media. He said his initial priority is to get to know the staff at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).

“They’ve been doing this for a long time so they’re going to be very familiar with all the things that are taking place at the Department,” Dr. Taylor said. “I certainly want to make a conscious effort to get out and meet superintendents of districts, visit schools, just to get the feel for what we know is good in Mississippi and areas where districts know they need help. So just getting out and meeting people and getting to know the state better.”

Dr. Taylor said he has not had a chance to meet former state superintendent of education Dr. Carey Wright, who retired effective June 30, 2022, as of yet but is anxious to meet her and have a conversation about her work.

READ MORE: MISSISSIPPI STATE SUPT. OF EDUCATION CAREY WRIGHT ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT.

“I know that she and my boss in North Carolina, Catherine Truitt, have a really good relationship, so I am anxious to meet her and have a conversation with her about the work that she’s done in Mississippi… why she chose that particular path,” Dr. Taylor said. “We’ve had an opportunity to follow that work as it relates to literacy and so I know that that was very important to her and certainly produced wonderful results for the state and so I do look forward to having a conversation with her about those challenges and how she was actually able to achieve that work.”

Dr. Taylor said the challenges Mississippi faces are some of the same challenges districts across the nation have, such as dealing with funding and teacher shortages and how to make sure students are properly prepared to go out into the workforce.

Taylor said his goal is to go in and examine what things have been been working well for the state and determine how to build upon that.

“We certainly want every community, everybody in the state, to invest in public education. I think we all know that at some point we were impacted by a teacher,” Dr. Taylor said. “We want it to be something that is productive for the state of Mississippi.”

In a statement last week, Taylor said the work of producing legislation to support schools resides with the Mississippi Legislature and Governor.

“I along with the State Board of Education, look forward to collaborating on legislative issues that will benefit our entire state,” Taylor said. “My goal will be to offer effective legislative ideas that we all recognize will benefit student growth.”

When asked on Monday how he anticipates working with the Legislature, Dr. Taylor said their responsibility at the MDE is to talk with the Legislature about what they know is going to move the mark in Mississippi and the type of legislation that will support that.

“They most certainly have their ideas about what they want to do as a Legislature. We want to be a part of that conversation to help guide what it is that they can develop from a legislative perspective,” Taylor said. “We can’t do this work without them; we want to be partners with them. We want to continue to have those kinds of conversations with them to say, ‘This is what our data shows us, this is what we know is successful, and this is what we know can move students in the state forward.'”

“So, it’s about having that conversation, having that working relationship with the leadership in the Legislature,” Dr. Taylor said.

At the 2022 Neshoba County Fair, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said that one of his top priorities for the 2023 Legislative session included modified calendars for school districts. When asked what his thoughts are on the adjusted calendar versus the traditional calendar, Dr. Taylor said that it is absolutely beneficial.

Taylor said when districts go to a year-round calendar, it reduces the amount of time between sessions. He said that it has a large amount to do with learning loss, which they learned about during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Superintendent of Education explained that when kids are out of school, there is a tremendous amount of learning loss.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released a final report card on states’ responses to COVID-19 in April 2022. In the education category, Mississippi ranked 14th overall with 76.2% of children in school or virtual for the majority of the 2020-2021 school year.

READ MORE: Mississippi ranks middle of the road in COVID-19 response, report says.

“One study found that school closures at the end of the previous 2019-2020 school year are associated with 13.8 million years of life lost,” the report said. “An NIH analysis found that life expectancy for high school graduates is four to six years longer than high school dropouts. The OECD estimates that learning losses from pandemic era school closures could cause a 3% decline in lifetime earnings, and that loss of just one third of a year of learning has long-term economic impact of $14 trillion.”

Dr. Taylor said education professionals have known for years that there is a summer learning loss that teachers have to make up for when kids go back to school.

“By going to a year-round calendar, I think every district or school that participates in that will see a benefit,” Taylor said. “Anything that we can do to shorten the amount of time that students are out, I think, that’s great. If the Lieutenant Governor believes this is a program that we can do to incentivize districts to participate, I think that’s absolutely wonderful.”

Taylor added that research shows the year-round calendar is positive and he likes the idea of giving kids more consistent access to education.

One of the things Dr. Taylor noted in the call with the media that he has seen in the state that he is proud of is the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) where students are allowed to participate in the school lunch program at no cost. Taylor said that 99% of schools in Mississippi are a part of this program.

Dr. Taylor concluded in the discussion by saying that Mississippi has always been a home for him and that one of his dreams has always been to return to Mississippi as the State Superintendent to lead the efforts from that perspective.

“For me, this is the pinnacle of my career,” Dr. Taylor said. “I see us as a state that continues to lead… We may not be at the top of the list, but we simply want to be the national example of how you provide a quality education in a state that has the demographics and economics that Mississippi has. And so, I certainly want to be a part of that conversation.”

“I look forward to working with the MDE staff, the superintendent, the Legislature, the Governor, and the Lieutenant Governor, because this is our state and this is our home, and we want to see it continually improve,” Taylor added.

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth.