Like most people, Rutland City Public Schools Superintendent Adam Taylor carries his wallet with him wherever he goes. But the most precious item inside is neither money nor credit cards.
Inside is a worn, faded copy of his birth certificate, stamped with the word: “Negro.”
“I had a teacher who told me my problem was that I was black,” Taylor said. “My high school guidance counselor told me I needed to learn how to mop.”
Instead of discouraging his dreams, the school district’s new superintendent said the word reminded him of the ways others may try to stop you from succeeding. He taught for decades, first in Oakland, and now in Rutland.
“There’s something magical about Rutland,” Taylor said. “It’s real. It’s the city that takes the fall for the other city ... Rutland is the place they make scary, the place you don’t want to go. That place is homey to me, because it’s where change happens.”
Taylor said he spends the first part of every day visiting his schools.
“I love their energy,” Taylor said. “I’ve been in every classroom in our schools. If I don’t see who I work for, I forget. And I work for these children.”
On Sept. 28, that meant a visit to Rutland Northeast Primary School, where the last Friday of every month features a “Respect Yourself” assembly with a guest speaker highlighting two positive character traits.
For September, the school asked Taylor to speak about respect and self-control.
“I have no idea what I’m going to say,” Taylor laughed. “I think if you have a script, sometimes it keeps you from speaking from the heart.”
Upon arriving to the school, Taylor took up a dust broom and helped staff members prepare for the wave of students coming in for the assembly.
“You always support your staff and teachers first,” Taylor said. “And you don’t know where these kids are coming from. The school should be cleaner than everyone’s house.”
Every classroom and around 25 adults filtered into the now-spotless cafeteria where everyone, along with several enthusiastic animal puppets, broke into a chorus of the “Northeast Song,” before Taylor’s address.
“It’s OK to make mistakes,” Taylor said, leaning down to speak to the students sitting quietly on the floor before him. “I am not any smarter than any of you. I worked hard to get where I am ... because the harder you work, the smarter you get.”
Twenty-two students were honored with certificates of accomplishment before the students erupted into their PAWS song, which stands for Please Respect, Attend with body and mind, Work hard, and Safety first.
After the assembly, Taylor visited his favorite places: Sarah Gecha and Courtney Donovan’s special needs classrooms.
“He’s been in a few times,” said counselor Amanda Gurney, pointing to where Taylor had taken a seat beside Jaden Drake, 7, who was explaining images in the book to his new friend.. “I think he’s phenomenal. It’s his personality: He’s really here for the kids.”
“We need to be excited for what they potentially could do,” Taylor said. “Kids with disabilities, their brains are just wired differently.”
Taylor’s next stop was Stafford Technical Center, a school that Taylor said was pivotal in his accepting the position.
“In California, it’s not hands-on,” Taylor said. “Stafford sold me.”
Taylor stopped by Guy Babb’s engineering class, where student Noah Logan was designing personalized wooden name tags for each member of Taylor’s staff.
“He comes in around once a week,” Babb said. “I think we have a special place in his heart.”
Babb said Taylor instituted one change immediately upon coming to the district. Every Friday, instructors wear the clothing representing the institution where they were educated in their chosen field.
“It’s so kids realize their potential,” Babb said.
Taylor visited Rutland High School’s Howe Center campus, a classroom with lower student-to-teacher ratio tucked in the heart of the building complex, which he said he hopes to re-brand and may combine with the Allen Street program.
“The high-school is too big for some, and they need a more intimate setting. We have to look at this model with fresh eyes,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he remains astonished at the capabilities of the students, such as those who are building the 15th house Stafford Tech students have completed in Rutland, adding a total of $1 million to the grand list, according to construction technology instructor Jeffrey Fowler.
The homes are a collaboration of different programs at Stafford, including construction technology, plumbing and forestry, Taylor said.
“Almost every aspect is completed by kids,” Taylor said. “These are real skills as opposed to theoretical skills.”
Taylor said no matter where he is, education remains a “life ordeal,” where he sees the failure of students as a direct reflection of his inability to serve them.
“I see people hungry,” Taylor said. “People who want change, who want people who are going to motivate and inspire change ... people seem to think I’m special because I’m the superintendent, but I’m in the greatest power to be in the service of others.”