Newly named state superintendent of education Robert Taylor made his first public comments on Monday since being named to the post.
Taylor, a native of Laurel who has worked in North Carolina public education for the last 30 years, said being state superintendent of Mississippi has been his lifelong dream.
“I look forward to working with (education leaders and elected officials) because this is our state, this is our home, and we want to see it continually improve,” he said. “What could be a greater gift to a native son?”
Speaking to reporters via Zoom, Taylor discussed a range of topics:
- Initial priorities: He wants to get to know the staff at the Mississippi Department of Education and meet local superintendents across the state to understand their districts’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Critical race theory: Taylor said critical race theory is not taught in public schools. He understands it to be a legal theory, and that it would be inaccurate to say that he supports it. “I’ve had to say to myself, ‘I’m an educated man, but I’m afraid I can’t speak intelligently about what critical race theory is,’” as it does not relate to his work. It is the responsibility of schools to help students become critical thinkers, but not to push them in any particular direction, he said.
- The teacher shortage: Teacher shortages and investing in quality teachers are some of the major challenges facing the state, he said. He named solutions, including building relationships with teacher training programs at universities, alternate licensing programs, and more work with local administrations regarding how they supervise teachers. He also discussed creating supports to help teachers stay in the classroom.
- Continue and expand Mississippi’s progress in literacy work.
- Work with the statehouse: He wants MDE to partner with the Legislature to help inform the bills lawmakers create based on what data and research show are successful.
- A continuous school year: When specifically asked about moving to a year-round school schedule, something Lt. Gov. Delbert Hoseman has voiced support for, Taylor said the research shows that year-round schooling is beneficial and would support a proposal of this type.
- Parental involvement: Taylor believes parents should have a strong voice in public education. He said he knows they want the best for their children and wants them to feel heard and like they can trust their schools. He sees it as his duty to make the experience of education the best that it can be for students and teachers across the state.
- Moving back home: He plans to live in the metro Jackson area, but hopes to get some land where he can dig in the dirt and enjoy the outdoors. He also owns land in Greene County with his brothers where they hunt.
- Representation: “I hope that for students of color, they see that they have the opportunity to rise to a position such as this. I would certainly like to think that I was not selected because of my color but because of my body of work. I do recognize that there are a lot of young Black boys and young Black girls who see themself in me, but I would ask them to not only see themselves in me but in everyone that they come across because that’s certainly what happened to me.”
Taylor will start in his new role in January of 2023, pending confirmation by the state senate.