The Highland Park Board of Education at a special meeting on Wednesday night, Aug. 5, 2015, voted 5-4 to appoint Dr. Scott Taylor, a Highland Park resident, as the new district superintendent. Dr. Taylor, who is currently superintendent for Kenilworth Public Schools, received a four-year contract effective Oct. 1 and ending June 30, 2019.
Although the board members’ praise for Dr. Taylor’s talents and experience was unanimous, the vote was not. Board member Darcie Cimarusti, for example, called Dr. Taylor a “strong educational leader who has earned the respect of many of his colleagues.” She said she had a “very positive” meeting with Dr. Taylor and that she looked forward to “bringing about very positive change and working collaboratively” with the new administration. However, She added, she added that in her opinion the other final candidate had displayed a more extensive and “proven track record for raising achievement levels in diverse populations.”
Board President Adam Sherman, who voted in favor of Dr. Taylor’s contract, thanked board members for their comments, but added that Dr. Taylor’s current district faces many of the challenges that Highland Park faces. Last week when Mr. Sherman announced the board’s decision to offer Dr. Taylor a contract (prior to the formal board vote,) he said to the Highland Park Planet that he “could not be more excited about the future of (the Highland Park) schools! Dr. Taylor is a 21st century leader who brings the knowledge and experience to address some of the most pressing issues in the school district.” In addition, Mr. Sherman at the meeting reiterated his admiration for the excellence of the search process. “I’ve been through four superintendent searches and this was by far the most transparent,” he said.
The move closes an administrative chapter in the district, which began in 2013 with the hiring of Superintendent Timothy Capone. Following a series of controversial moves, which included the removal of 10 district positions, the district and Capone eventually agreed to end his contract in August 2014. Israel Soto, who was Mr. Capone’s assistant superintendent, has served as interim superintendent for the past year.
Dr. Taylor thanked the board and described his new career opportunity as his “dream job….The rigorous search process established by the board” makes the appointment all the more “humbling.”
A 20-year resident of Highland Park, Dr. Taylor said that living here gives him an “insight that I feel will help me hit the ground running.”
Addressing the needs of a diverse community will be a priority for his administration, Dr. Taylor said. “I recognized that one of my main charges is to act on helping lower-income students and families and students from all different walks of life to do better and be world class….I will put my heart and soul into making sure that I serve all children, regardless of who they are or where they come [from]…. And I can promise you that,” he said.
Scott Taylor received his doctorate from Columbia University and B.A. and Ed.M. from Rutgers University. He is an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University and at Montclair State University’s College of Education and Human Services. He has co-developed and implemented social-emotional learning programs in Kenilworth and is currently working with Dr. Maurice Elias to create the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools. Dr. Elias is a professor in the Rutgers University Psychology Department and Director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, and Academic Director of The Collaborative, Rutgers’ Center for Community-Based Research and Service.
One of his first acts as superintendent, said Dr. Taylor, is to set up a series of community advisory committees. “I’ll put no cap on the number of participants, because what we’ll be doing is sharing in the decision making. This is about all of us.”
HPP reporter Amiri Tulloch contributed to this story.