VUHS co-principal excels at career

VERGENNES — New Vergennes Union High School co-principal Stephanie Taylor has risen rapidly in her second career working outside of the home.
After graduating from Boston’s Simmons College in 1981, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native and longtime Vermont resident, who was hired in May for her new post, spent time in the business world for several years, including managing a food service firm.
Then, as Taylor, now a Burlington resident, puts it, “I was lucky enough to stay at home with my family,” which includes three children now in their mid-to-late 20s.
During those years in her hometown of Essex Junction, Taylor said she became active in her children’s schools and school boards and substitute taught.
Her career path had moved in a new direction.  
“When it was time to go back to work, it was clear my interests had changed,” she said.
In 1999, she took a job as a Westford Elementary School para-educator and obtained her license as a school library media specialist.
The next year, she began a seven-year stint as the Grand Isle School’s library media specialist and technology guru, a position that included part-time teaching. By the time she left, it had grown into more.
As the years passed Taylor, as she had while volunteering in Essex, “started moving into some leadership roles” — as the teachers’ union president and as a committee chairwoman, and she started filling in for the principal.
Taylor laughed when asked about gravitating toward leadership.
“I’m an oldest child, go figure,” she said.
Taylor agreed she tends to identify and try to solve organizational needs.
“I think there’s a vacuum a lot of times. I’m not trying to be self-congratulatory, but lots of times those roles go unfilled. Someone has to do it,” Taylor said. “Once I felt like I could lift my head up and look around (at Grand Isle), there seemed to be a need in some of those roles. It wasn’t calculated, it was, ‘Sure, I’ll do that, or I’ll do that.’ I think some people have a systems perspective and some people don’t. It’s just where you go.”
Her principal there also encouraged her to start pursuing degrees in school administration as well as library technology.
“I was getting a shove in the direction of school leadership from my school principal at the time. So I finally said, yeah, that’s where my heart lies,” Taylor said.
After seven years at Grand Isle she took a calculated gamble and accepted a one-year post at Mount Mansfield Union High School as the head librarian.
“I made kind of a risky move,” she said.
That job allowed Taylor to expand her résumé: She supervised a small staff and for the first time she worked at the high school level. It also gave her a seat on the school’s leadership team and she completed her master’s degree in school administration at St. Michael’s College that year.
The MMU experience gave her the background to apply for the assistant principal position at U-32 the following spring, and she spent six years in that post before deciding to seek the VUHS co-principal job.
The upgrade at VUHS to co-principal from a co-assistant principal position certainly appealed to Taylor.
“It’s a different role, a different level of responsibility, and I felt my work at U-32 had prepared me for that,” Taylor said.
She felt ready after being involved in all administrative aspects at U-32, including student behavior, budgeting, curriculum development, and teacher evaluation and support.
“I had a role in all those parts, so I felt very prepared for a principalship,” Taylor said.
And, as Taylor tells it, VUHS offered specific attractions. One was its size.
“U-32 is just big enough that I never felt a connection with an entire class. I would never learn 130, 140 students’ names,” Taylor said. “I think with classes under 90 … I have some strategies for learning kids’ names, lunch groups and stuff. I really want to have that personal connection.”
Also a lure was the fact that she will have responsibility for the VUHS middle school while Co-Principal Ed Webbley retains the reins for the upper grades.
“I love middle school, and I worked K-through-8 schools before going to U-32,” Taylor said.  
She described herself as “a strong believer” that middle school should take a different approach than high school, and is impressed with the new VUHS 8th-grade Capstone program.
“I think it’s an emphasis on social and emotional growth. It’s not just academics. It’s in some way spending more than just one year with students … welcoming them as sometimes very small seventh-graders and then seeing them out as ready to assume the responsibilities of ninth grade,” she said.  
The VUHS effort to establish Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements (PBGRs) also proved to be important in interesting Taylor. U-32 had a small pilot program in what Taylor said is a vital project at VUHS she is happy to join.
“They have a plan in development to roll it out for each subsequent class, so it’s pretty exciting,” she said. “I think I fit in because I’m a big fan.”
VUHS students will eventually be required to demonstrate mastery of material to graduate, not just sit in classrooms and amass credits. They will be allowed flexibility, including self-design and choice of research and expression, in how they demonstrate that mastery.
Taylor believes students will be more motivated to learn under such a system.
“Asking a student just to sit in class for a hundred hours or whatever a Carnegie unit is based on and then pass with a 71, does that mean they’ve got 71 percent of the learning? It’s not as participatory. It can be very passive on the students’ side,” she said. “In a proficiency-based (system), they have to show evidence of something, and it’s much more involved and it’s much more rigorous, and I think there’s no reason all students can’t achieve in that format.”
Taylor said there is much work still to be done at VUHS to reach the goal, particularly to work national Common Core standards into the PBGRs. But she has already been impressed with the dedication of the teachers who have worked extra hours to advance the project.
“I was astounded by that level of interest in working collaboratively in moving things forward,” said Taylor, who hopes also to spend time in classrooms collaborating with middle school teachers.
Asked what the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union community should know about her, Taylor said she has “passion and enthusiasm for administration” as well as experience, and that she is happy to be here.
“I feel lucky to have been offered the job,” she said, “and I will devote myself to my work and making sure we are doing the work that is right for kids.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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