Q&A with John Taylor, interim superintendent of Rock Hill schools

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 3, 2013 

John Taylor, the former superintendent of the Lancaster County schools, will serve as the interim superintendent for Rock Hill schoolsuntil a permanent replacement for Lynn Moody is hired.

RACHEL SOUTHMAYD — rsouthmayd@heraldonline.com

The transition is complete and Lynn Moody is no longer occupying the office of superintendent of Rock Hill schools.

Instead, former Lancaster Superintendent – and one-time Rock Hill schools administrator – John Taylor has taken over as interim chief of the school district.

He sat down for a conversation with The Herald during his first days on the job.

Why did you go into education?

I am the son of a Lutheran minister, so there was sort of this expectation I would be a minister. I graduated and went to the seminary in Columbia for about 2 months and, like I tell people, I got there and looked around and realized that everybody else was called and I was sent. I found myself at sea so I picked up the paper and there was an ad for a teaching position in Allendale County.

I found out very quickly that knowing your subject and teaching are two different things, that the interaction part with students, motivation, all that, is every bit as challenging and important and difficult as all the other parts. So I was a relatively unsuccessful first-year teacher and thought I wouldn’t be doing it for long, but I stuck with it. I got my first administrative job as a Title I coordinator when those federal programs were just starting and have done just about everything since.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in school administration, instead of staying with teaching?

I’d like to make that sound noble, but in the days that I was teaching, the salary was so low and I was trying to support a family. I worked every summer when I was a teacher. I worked in a cucumber shed one summer. I worked at Pizza Hut one summer, to supplement the income. In those days, if you wanted to stay in the profession and be a provider, you almost had to think of getting out of (being a teacher).

How does Rock Hill compare to the other districts in which you’ve worked?

A lot of the districts I’ve worked in were those that were really struggling for resources. When I first came to Rock Hill, it was really the first place that had the kind of resources they have here, that had test scores that made the community proud. It was quite a good feeling.

But the problems are the same, basically, everywhere. Rock Hill is a little more forward-looking than places I’ve lived, not just the schools but the city leadership, community leadership. That’s a good thing.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the district?

Whenever you have a transition, there’s a challenge. They’ve got some really important initiatives going on. The iPad, iRock, digital conversion. There are a lot of expectations that come with that and a huge amount of coordination, because the technology is not the end, it’s the means.

We have our five-year accreditation coming up next spring, which involves another big planning effort that involves lots of people.

What do you see as your role as interim superintendent?

The first part is learning a lot of things, learning about people, learning about programs, and then doing basically what the board has asked me to do, which is basically making sure we’re progressing down the path that they have planned. They’ve got a strategic plan, they’ve got an iRock plan, and that people are working together to do that.

If there are things that I can address that will make the transition to the next person easier, I’ll do that. Basically, other than that, doing what superintendents do every day, which is selling the district’s programs and dealing with the budgets and with the staff and working to make sure everyone is working together in the same direction.

What’s your approach as leader?

I’ve always been a collaborative leader. If I have a strength, it’s understanding where the strengths of other people lie and using that well. Most all of my accomplishments I can crow about as a leader have been because somebody very talented had a good idea that I recognized or was able to facilitate, or groups of people came together to make good plans, because we’re in a collaborative business.

How do you plan to get to know the schools and the community?

I’ve tried to meet individually with the board members, individually with the leadership at the district level, but I intend to be out at each school for a while, meeting with the principal and hearing from them on an individual basis what the concerns are. There are 28 buildings, but I intend to visit each one and maybe time it with a faculty meeting.

Do you plan to make any changes as interim superintendent?

At this point, I’ll be hearing from a lot of people. I told the board it was not my role to come in and put my thumbprint on this district. That’s not the role of an interim superintendent. The last thing that should happen is I have some great idea for a new program and six months from now or eight months from now or whenever it is, somebody else comes in and has a whole new idea.

What we want to do is keep the good things we’ve got going going and create as open and ready and willing an atmosphere for the new person who comes in.

Is there anything you think the community should know about the transition between superintendents?

This district has some absolutely fantastic leadership, and I know that from having been other places in the state and belonging to some superintendents’ consortium and knowing how Rock Hill’s respected. They’ve got strong leadership at the school level, strong leadership at the district level.

I don’t think the parents will feel any kind of hiccup as we move forward. I’ll be catching up to speed and counting on those people to continue doing what they do and begin planning together with them how we proceed.

Note: Answers were edited for length.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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