Meet Durham Public Schools’ 2020-21 Principal of the Year

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2021 Woman of Achievement Susan Stewart Taylor goes above and beyond for her Charles E. Jordan High School students and faculty

Susan Stewart Taylor of Durham Public Schools
Photo by John Michael Simpson

By Nicole Moorefield

Guiding students through some of their most challenging years is Susan Stewart Taylor’s calling.

She credits this to her parents, who instilled the importance of education in her. Her father attended segregated schools in Mississippi, and her mother was the only person of color from kindergarten to high school in her Massachusetts classrooms. Neither went to college, but they encouraged her to attend. “[They] kept telling me education is the way you access the American dream,” Susan says.

Susan went on to become a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and studied history education at East Carolina University before receiving her master’s in school administration from N.C. State.

She wanted to attend Spelman College, but it was expensive, private and out of state. What she didn’t know then, and what motivates her to ensure her students know their options, is that Bennett College in Greensboro offered a similar experience. “I don’t want any child to not make an informed decision,” she says.

Her students now have advantages she didn’t. She recalls a student telling her that she would attend Howard University after graduation. When Susan asked how she learned about Howard, the student said she visited on a trip organized and financed by the Jordan Alumni Association. “This is what we do,” she says. The community shows up to support the students and to show them their options.

She spent most of her 26 years as an educator in Wake County, but was drawn to Charles E. Jordan High School in part because of its tightknit community.

“I wanted to be a principal, but I didn’t want to be a principal at any old school,” she says. “The school had to have the right fit. What I read of Jordan, what I knew of Jordan, I said, this school is the right fit for me.”

When she started in 2018, there was a lack of trust among students and educators. “I just remember vividly going into the hallway after third lunch ended, and it looked like it was the mall when students should be in class,” she says. When she tried to talk to them, students turned the other way.

Susan built up that trust by instituting AP Capstone and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) programs, and students now follow her goals for them to “graduate on time with options.” When she speaks with students now, they politely excuse themselves to get to class on time.

And Susan can’t help but sing the praises of her teachers who have backed her along the way. She was floored when her “work family” masked up and gathered on their lunch break to celebrate her accomplishments as Durham Public Schools’ Principal of the Year on Nov. 20, 2020. “It might seem small, but that was a big deal because we’re working virtually,” Susan says.

But it’s not just staff who have rallied around Susan. “Previously when I would talk with families about a concern, it was always from the standpoint of ‘me, my child.’” At Jordan, she says, parents think about it as “we.”

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Durham Magazine Intern

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