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UGA education alumnus named 2011 National High School Principal of Year

Athens, Ga. – For the second straight year, a University of Georgia College of Education alumnus has been named National Principal of the Year.

This time the honor goes to Wes Taylor (B.S.Ed. ’84), principal of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, who was named 2011 MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals’ National High School Principal of the Year.

The award was announced at a surprise assembly at Taylor’s school on Aug. 25 that was attended by Georgia State Rep. (and LHS teacher) Amy Carter, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant and State Board of Education member Elizabeth Ragsdale.

Since becoming principal at Lowndes in 2003, Taylor has had outstanding results.The school has seen a 13 percent increase in graduation, and across-the-board double-digit increases in pass rates-some increases as large as 38 percent-on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests for various subgroups. Scores for the science portion of the GHSGT also dramatically improved with the number of students passing increasing from 66 to 91 percent.

Participation in Advanced Placement classes has nearly tripled under Taylor’s watch to 446 students in 2009, with similar increases in the number of students receiving a score of 3 or higher on AP tests.

Since Taylor became principal, Lowndes High was removed from the state’s Needs Improvement List in 2007 and achieved Adequate Yearly Progress in 2005, 2006 and 2008. The average combined verbal and math SAT scores exceeded 1000 for the first time in school history.

Georgia education leaders attribute the improvements largely to Taylor’s fostering a culture of collaboration among teachers and a college-going culture among students.

“Wes Taylor is the epitome of a team builder. Wes empowers others to assist him in the leadership of Lowndes High School,” said Steve Smith, Lowndes school superintendent. “He sets high expectations for himself and he motivates those around him to aspire to the same lofty expectations. Wes shuns the spotlight and focuses the attention on his staff and students for their accomplishments.”

Taylor tries to make his large school of nearly 3,000 students feel smaller so every student feels recognized and respected, according to Smith. He provides each teacher a visual reminder of the importance of considering the needs of every student: a brick with the words inscribed, “Just another brick in the wall?” Teachers keep the brick on their desks and they report that it’s a powerful symbol that reminds them that, although thousands of students enter the school doors each day, each is an individual with particular strengths, needs and areas for improvement.

Taylor will be honored during an awards banquet on Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C., to kick off National Principals Month. The national principal of the year search began in early 2010 as each state principal’s association selected its state principal of the year. From this pool of state award winners, a panel of judges selected three middle level and three high school finalists.

Taylor is the latest in a series of exceptional Georgia school leaders to be named national principals of the year. Previous winners included fellow UGA alumna Sheila Kahrs (Ed.D. ’92), Haymon-Morris Middle School in Winder (2010); Mark Wilson, Morgan County High School in Madison (2009); and Molly Howard, Jefferson County High School in Louisville (2008).

A native of Eastman, Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education at UGA.