This story was originally published in Volume 3 of Amazing Magazine that you can download here.
Superintendent Dr. Tim Taylor announced his retirement at the November 20, 2017 school board meeting. After 46 years in education, 26 of those years in the Ames CSD, and the last 8 as Superintendent, his last day within the Ames CSD will be June 30, 2018. The next day, he will take a much needed and well deserved golf vacation to Scotland to kick start the next chapter of his life.
The IPERs Rule of 88 says that an individual has qualified to retire when their age plus years of service has reached “88.” Dr. Taylor has reached 115. Taylor grew up in Iowa Falls and is proud to be an Iowa kid. His first teaching job was in Janesville, Iowa, near Waterloo, and later he taught and coached boys basketball in Winterset.
After he finished his Ph.D. at Iowa State University in the early 1990s, Taylor began working with the Department of Education in Human Resources. “I had been involved in graduate school and been a graduate assistant for years at Iowa State University. So I lived in town and commuted to the Department of Education. As a graduate student, I fell in love with the community and wanted to be a part of it,” he said, reflecting on his collegiate days.
The opportunity to come back to Ames presented itself when the Director of Personnel opened in 1992. In that position, he was involved with contract negotiations, evaluations, hiring of staff, and budgeting. Years later through a reorganization, he became Associate Superintendent and eventually stepped into the Superintendent role on a temporary basis in January 2010. Later that year, the board made the position official, and he has been the longest serving Ames superintendent in decades.
As he enters his final month on the job, the necessary but at times difficult reflection process has begun for Dr. Taylor. “It’s been a great journey, and journeys are defined by the people. Over the years, I’ve been a part of amazing administrative teams. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have amazing people around me.”
As Taylor leaves his position as Superintendent, he will have helped put the District in fantastic shape from a facilities and financial standpoint. For him, the two work hand in hand to create wonderful opportunities for students. In 2012, the community supported a $55 million bond to renovate and rebuild all five elementary schools in Ames. That debt will be paid off in 2020. In April, the community supported a $110 million bond referendum to build a new high school. Other facilities projects included a new District Office and sports complex, and a new facilities and maintenance building. A new pool will be built in conjunction with the new high school. All of this has been possible without property taxes going up as a result of these projects and without cutting staff or student programs.
“The biggest struggle is always budget,” said Taylor. “Schools are for kids, and they are really what we’re here for. We’ve been able to revamp our facilities for kids, and the community has been very supportive of that.”
For school districts across the state, facilities funding can come from a variety of sources beyond bonds. It’s a delicate balance for districts to maintain solvency and to be able to pay off debts in a smart and efficient way without impacting student programs. “Those buildings are attractive and have great spaces to learn and work. They are a reflection of how much this community values education.”
Taylor also sees the implementation of professional learning communities (PLC) across the District as a major step toward unifying curriculum and professional standards within the District. “It really has revolutionized what we’ve been able to do. Getting teachers engaged and active in their PLCs has been a very positive thing for kids.”
When Taylor ends his tenure as Superintendent, the Ames CSD will have been ranked the #1 District in Iowa for five consecutive years according to Niche. For Taylor, it isn’t the facilities or financial planning that has allowed Ames to stand out, but rather the teachers, staff, and students. He has always said that “Ames kids are special,” and his job is to give teachers and students an opportunity to succeed. “The programming and opportunities that we provide kids is what makes us #1. And the quality of kids in Ames…they are amazing kids. When you put all of those things together, you have a pretty good situation.”
Around the Office
A suit and tie is the uniform for Superintendent Taylor. That, and a cup of coffee. His idea of a casual Friday is simply not to wear a tie into the office. It is out of respect for the position and just something that he has always done. His door is always open (literally), and he never gives anyone the impression that he is too busy to talk. He will stop what he is doing to meet with parents, community members, members of his administrative team, or District staff, and those meetings are met with a smile on his face.
The toughest decisions come from his office and are often made by him. At times when walking past his office, he can be seen staring out his window, coffee cup in hand, weighing whatever is on his mind. He strives for collaboration with his administrative team and takes their input seriously. He has said over again, “I want to hire good people to do their job and get out of their way and watch them work. As a superintendent, there is no greater satisfaction than that.” When the decision goes well, he will be the first to offer a “good job” with a Tim Taylor fist pump, and if it doesn’t go as planned, he will shoulder the heat.
Although leading the District as Superintendent has been his job for the past 8 years, he still finds opportunities to teach. When meeting with him privately or in a group, he will take small opportunities to explain something more fully. In the conversation, he will casually walk to the white board and start to sketch out the topic at hand, whether that be school finance or a timeline of events. Although his classroom is now an office or boardroom, his passion for teaching still shines through.
The decision to retire was not easy for Taylor, but at the age of 69, he feels confident that now is the right time. He has accomplished what he set out to do and knows that the Ames CSD is in great shape from a financial and facilities standpoint for the next person to take over. “I have some older brothers in their 80s, and now is the time for family. You reach a point when you start thinking about your mortality. My bucket list isn’t long, but there are a few things I want to do.” As a golf enthusiast (did you know he was the Iowa Mid-Amateur Senior Champion in 2006?), he will begin checking things off that list right away as he heads to Scotland this summer to tee off where golf began: the historic St. Andrews Links. He plans to stay in Iowa in retirement and hopes to read more books, continue to golf, and maybe adopt a pet.
Dr. Taylor will certainly be missed, but his contributions will continue to live in Ames for decades. As he moves into the next chapter of his life, the rest of us continue to move forward as well. He had a real talent of being able to not complicate issues. Let us continue to be inspired by the core message of his work, and one that he continued to repeat as he approached retirement: “Schools are for kids.”