New Dean of Student Life Living a 'Dream' at SJCS
By Bob Castello
SJCS Communications Manager
The way Rod Taylor sees it, he has his own special relocation committee, and the Lord takes care of him.
In his previous place of employment, as principal at Wade Hampton High School in Hampton County, Mr. Taylor lived in Beaufort, 20 minutes from the coast -- he loves the beach -- but quite a distance from the school.
After settling in as Dean of Student Life at St. Joseph's Catholic School in his native Greenville, Mr. Taylor has shortened his commute considerably.
"At Hampton, I drove 40 to 45 minutes each way," he said. "Now I'm 15 minutes from home and I come to this beautiful place, and I said, 'The Lord's just showing off now.' "
Mr. Taylor laughed heartily.
His first day was Monday, May 2. He was surprised he slept at all the night before because he was so excited.
Two days later, Mr. Taylor witnessed his first Red Door ceremony. He's been captivated by the history of the school, admitting he's been "overwhelmed" and describing his hiring as "providential."
"It got me to thinking about conversations that I've been having with the Lord about what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm pinching myself."
Mr. Taylor, a single father with two grown children, couldn't help but think of the full-circle nature of his journey, the return to both his hometown and, more important, to a Catholic school.
Born and raised in Greenville, Mr. Taylor attended J.L. Mann High School, where he played football -- his team lost in the state final in 1984 -- and basketball for the Patriots.
After graduating from Furman University with a double major in history and political science, he took a year off school, spending the time as a waiter and substitute teacher.
"I thought I wanted to go to law school at Howard University so I moved to (Washington), D.C.," he said. "I really did a lot of soul searching and reflecting, and I decided I didn't want to charge people for their problems.
"My Latin teacher from high school, guidance counselor from high school and two of my Furman professors all gave me the same advice. They said, 'What have you done that you have enjoyed?' I said, 'After my freshman year at Furman, I ran a summer camp in West Greenville. I enjoyed that. And I enjoyed substitute teaching. I thought the kids were funny. All four said, 'Well, you should look into teaching.' "
Catholic School Provides Opportunity
Mr. Taylor knew he could not return home and teach in a public school without going back and earning his degree in education.
However, Maryland and Pennsylvania had numerous independent private schools. He went to a job fair and wound up being hired by Loyola High School, a Catholic school in Towson, Maryland. He spent seven years there teaching Old Testament ancient history and computer science and coaching football, basketball and lacrosse.
Because Mr. Taylor was an employee at Loyola High School, he did not have to pay tuition at nearby Loyola University in Baltimore, which is where he earned his Master's degree in Educational Administration and Supervision.
"That's what my South Carolina certificate says. I'm certified as an administrator-superintendent so I still couldn't teach in South Carolina because I don't have a teacher certificate," Mr. Taylor said.
"I take it seriously -- Dean of Student Life. It's not Dean of Discipline. It's student life, and life is more than academics."
But he was able to return to Greenville County and begin a career in administration when he was hired as assistant principal at Hillcrest High School in July 1998.
Three years later, at the age of 32, he was a principal for the first time, at Lakeview Middle School in Greenville. After four years and leading a turnaround at Lakeview, Mr. Taylor became principal at Dutch Fork Middle School in Irmo.
"At Dutch Fork, I had one of the best experiences of my life, having my kids in the building with me," he said.
However, after seven years, his daughter was in the ninth grade and he realized he had been an administrator her entire life. And he had worked all the time.
"So I took the year off, and I went to everything," he said. "She was a cheerleader and she played lacrosse, so I went to every football and basketball game and then every lacrosse game, and it was the best year of my life."
But he had to get back to work, and after serving as an education consultant for a year, Mr. Taylor heard about an opening at Woodmont High School for a Jobs for America's Graduates Program Coordinator, in which he mentored students with personal and academic barriers. He did that for two years, and then Westside High School hired him as Associate Principal.
St. Joe's Extends 'Warmest' Welcome
At that time, his son was finishing at Furman, and his daughter was starting at Clemson so he was able to spend some time with them as well. Then Mr. Taylor got a call from a teacher who worked for him at Lakeview Middle. She was a consultant for Discovery Education, which was looking for someone to coach principals. The position involved extensive travel -- from Charlotte, to Atlanta, to Nashville.
"The only downside was I don't like airplanes," he said. "Flying got old."
He held on for nearly two years and then returned to school, taking the position in Hampton County. While he enjoyed just about every aspect of the school, after a year, he decided not to return. It was more important to be closer to his church, family and friends.
"When people stay, when people are happy -- and you can tell when people are happy -- you know you're in a good place."
The same teacher who worked for Mr. Taylor at Lakeside Middle alerted him about the position at St. Joseph's after seeing it on LinkedIn. He jumped at the chance.
"This is too good to be true," he said. "To be able to return to a Catholic school, it's the dream of a lifetime. It really is. ... There are some things we can do in terms of their understanding of Christ, and it needs to manifest itself in their lives, in their actions, in their words and deeds, but you've got to position them."
"I take it seriously -- Dean of Student Life. It's not Dean of Discipline. It's student life, and life is more than academics. It's more than getting a referral. It's a whole lot going on with them. You take a sixth grader, and that's a different set of needs than a 12th grader and a junior. They're all in different places."
All of that potential, plus the history of the school, plus the people themselves -- they all have Mr. Taylor still pinching himself.
"I've worked at eight schools," he said, "and I've worked with really nice people, and maybe they didn't welcome me at three of them because I was their new principal and they didn't pick me, but St. Joe’s has been the warmest welcome in the world, hands down.
"And then to meet people and ask, 'How long have you worked here?' 'I've been here 16 years.' 'I've been here 14 years.' 'I've been here 20 years.' When people stay, when people are happy -- and you can tell when people are happy -- you know you're in a good place."