Student Spotlight

Brandman experience inspires Administrator of the Year in Fresno school district

March 03, 2015
Annie Taylor, principal at West Fresno Elementary School, gets a hug from a student and Clifford the Big Red Dog

Annie Taylor, principal at West Fresno Elementary School, gets a hug from a student and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Ask Annie Taylor why she thinks she was chosen as Administrator of the Year for her California school district and she immediately givesthe credit to a great administrative team at West Fresno Elementary School and to the support of her Brandman University cohort.

Just in her second year of being an elementary school principal, Taylor said every member of her administrative team was nominated for the top honor. Her 800-student school in the Washington Unified School District serves a challenging area where gang shootings still happen and 100 percent of the students receive lunch for free or for a reduced price.

Taylor said she’s fortunate to have a learning director, a school social worker and an academic counselor to help her deal with the crisis-heavy population.

“Our staff felt that all four of us were doing a good job. The four of us work very hard to support our teachers and to make sure our students are getting the support they need. We’re clear on what our roles are,” she said of her team, who she counts as friends and praises for working at a very high capacity. A district-chosen panel interviewed Taylor and the other candidates before naming her as top administrator.

Equally important was the support of a great cohort mentor, Dr. Laurie Goodman, and the members of her Brandman University Ed.D. cohort for helping her navigate the transition from high school learning center director to K-5 principal.

“Annie Taylor is one in a million,” said Goodman. “Annie’s skills in organization brought clarity to assignments … she made us better.” Goodman also praised Taylor for her devotion to others and personal dedication for supporting students and adults in need, including a cohort member caring for a critically ill child. “Our world is better because Annie is in it.”

Because her transformational change project centered on the changes at her new school, Taylor said she was able to think through every piece of what she did. “I was able to think about the way to frame things, the pros and cons. I was living it (transformational change) and my staff benefited from it.”

Taylor isn’t just talking about curriculum changes brought on by the introduction of Common Core. She’s talking about a school that had gone through two state takeovers before being handed over to the Washington school district by the state.

When she started the Brandman Ed.D. program, Taylor thought she might be ready to be a principal by the time she finished. But the encouragement of her cohort mentor, who was also an assistant superintendent of schools in Visalia at the time, and the confidence instilled in her by her cohort, which included two school principals, convinced her to apply for the opening at West Fresno Elementary School and two other positions just six months after starting the doctoral program.

Her experiences as a first-year principal also guided her choice for a dissertation topic: mentorship for first-year principals during transformational change. The qualitative study looks at the kind of support available and the affect it had on new school leaders, particularly now that all schools face major changes with the advent of Common Core.

She discovered that it wasn’t so much about the existence of a mentorship program as it was about having the right person as a mentor.

“You really need somebody who is supportive and available, who can build trust. All the principals talked about needing someone to help them build their confidence,” she said. “There’s nobody to go to above you at your school. It can be very lonely.”

Having her Brandman cohort to fall back on helped her, she said, and she’s encouraged several others in her district to enroll in the Ed.D. program.

“I tell them it’s a great program,” she said. Taylor enrolled soon after finishing her master’s at Pacific University with encouragement from her mother. It was a flyer from the Visalia campus passed along by her mother, who worked in the Visalia Unified School District, that brought Brandman to her attention.

“I looked at two programs – Brandman and CSU. Brandman has wonderful customer service,” she said. She attended informational meetings and felt the cohort model, which she had also had for her master’s, suited her best. “It was a very easy decision.”

And a fortuitous one. “I don’t think I was fully aware of my opportunities. Brandman has allowed me to see what is out there – that there are so many things you can do when you have a doctorate,” she said. Although not sure what her next step is, except perhaps being a principal without having to do school work at the same time, Taylor is certain that she’s well prepared for whatever comes next.

“I’m a good leader because of Brandman,” she said.

To learn more about the Brandman Ed.D. program click here.

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