UNION, NJ — On Tuesday, May 18, Highland Park School District Superintendent Scott Taylor was chosen as the new superintendent for the Union School District, beginning this summer.
“I was raised in a very creative environment,” Taylor said on Friday, May 21. “My father is a very well-known musician, my mother was an art teacher and I grew up in this creative and artistic environment. It led me to want to go into a field that would allow me to do that, and that is what teaching is for me, that’s what education is for me. It’s a field in which I can be creative, take risks and be an artist for kids and of their learning.
“To me, education is like an art,” he continued. “It’s the perfect fit for me based on how I grew up. I really, really love kids because they are fun, they’re real, honest, and I found that being an educator was my chance to do something really good for kids.”
Taylor said he saw the position advertised through the New Jersey School Board Association and elsewhere. He had gotten to know Union when he was the superintendent of the Kenilworth School District, and it seemed a good fit.
“I saw the opening and I thought to myself that I’ve been in Highland Park for six years, I’ve done some really good things and now is an opportunity to go somewhere that I’ve always had my eyes on,” he said. “Whatever the next step I was going to take in my career was definitely going to be to lead an even more diverse community than Highland Park. … My comfort zone … is working in diverse communities. So that was definitely a big thing that attracted me to Union.
“The other was because I knew people from Union who I really liked, and I always knew Union to be this vibrant community,” he continued. “Many great things were going on with the schools in particular — the drama department, the athletic department, the amazing teachers and leaders. That was another reason why I wanted to come, because I heard such amazing things about the area, and my impressions were really positive.”
Taylor said the role of superintendent differs depending on the size of the school district. In a large district such as Union, Taylor said, he views his responsibilities as being the lead visionary; the person who helps establish the vision with district community input. Another responsibility would be the bridge between the district and the township community.
“I think the best thing I can do to improve the schools will be to help build a strategic plan that will effectively organize all the parts of the school district to meet goals as the district community identifies what will lead us to be a world-class school district,” Taylor said. “For someone like me who doesn’t know what people need, what better thing to do than to get people together and develop a plan? That’s one of the best things I can do right now, in year one — help make a plan that we can all get into and rally around and address all the needs that we think the district community of the schools have.
“Union has a great reputation, and I would love to see the school district be world-famous for certain things, whatever those things are,” he continued. “I want people around the world to know that the Union School District is world-famous for whatever it is we choose we want to be world-famous for. The second goal has to do with a strategic plan. I want everyone in town to look at the strategic plan as a real document and something that we really use to guide us, not just something that looks good.”
Taylor said that, as Highland Park was a relatively small school district, he had to do many things that superintendents typically didn’t have to do, largely because he didn’t have as many people on his leadership team. He said he’d like to be able to do more vision-building in Union, because he will be able to have many trusted leaders working with him who can take ownership of a lot of the things he did as a superintendent in Highland Park. As he didn’t have as much time to do things in Highland Park as he would have liked, he said he is hoping to be more of a visionary person in Union.
Taylor begins his five-year term as Union’s superintendent on Thursday, July 1. Gerry Benaquista, who is currently the acting superintendent of the Union School District, was approved as the new assistant superintendent at the Union Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, May 18.
“Today, I spent my day in the schools, and now I am over-the-moon excited,” Taylor said. “I got to see elementary students waving hello to me; support staff, teachers and leaders being so friendly and so welcoming.”
Highland Park Board of Education President Mark Krieger said he was confident in Taylor’s ability and the good fit he would be for the Union School District.
“The Board of Education’s job is to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers and parents to the school administrators and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers and parents of the community,” Krieger said on Sunday, May 23. “The school board does not operate the district on a day-to-day basis; that is the job of the superintendent, who is the district’s chief executive. Rather, the school board sets the policies, goals and objectives for the district — and it holds the superintendent responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals.
“As president of the board, I met frequently with Dr. Taylor to review the concerns of the citizens who elected me and to review the needs of the district, which we will present to the community, especially with regard to funding and curriculum.”
Krieger said transition will be smooth for Highland Park, as Taylor moves on to Union.
“Since Union’s school district is approximately three times the size of the Highland Park district, it is natural for him to be making a move to a more challenging role,” Krieger said. “Our district has appointed our strong, smart and capable director of curriculum as acting superintendent. She has five years of administrative experience in the Highland Park schools, so we will be able to make a very smooth transition.”
Krieger said Taylor became superintendent in Highland Park after a very difficult time for the school district. He created a strategic plan — with input from the Board of Education, its educators and members of the community — so that the district went from one with little planning to one with a strong and well-organized plan. He said Taylor helped to improve the district’s relationship with its local union and improved administration, teacher and staff morale. When the pandemic hit, he created a plan and guided the district through the last 15 very difficult months. Krieger said he was pleased with Taylor’s leadership, which took into account the needs of the students first.
“I wish him well,” said Krieger. “At our special public board meeting last week, when we accepted his resignation, I offered my best wishes for his future, as did other members of the Board of Education.”