A funny thing happened to former N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) administrator Robert Taylor en route to becoming Mississippi’s second black state superintendent of education. His nomination was roundly rejected by that state’s Republican-led Senate this week in a largely partisan vote that angered many Black lawmakers.
Old fashioned Southern racism coupled with comments Taylor made in 2020 article on the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Black Studies website discussing the university’s and the state’s racist past likely derailed Taylor’s nomination, Black lawmakers said.
“The members of the Black caucus, we’re all disappointed that he was rejected,” Sen. David Jordan, a Democrat from Greenwood, Mississippi, told Policy Watch. “When they rejected him [Taylor], they rejected someone that God made. He’s not responsible for being Black, so all that I can see there is racism.”
Taylor is a Mississippi native and 1990 graduate of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg.
He joined NCDPI in early 2021 as deputy secretary of student and school advancement before being hired away by the Mississippi State Board of Education in November. He’d been working as Mississippi’s state superintendent since Jan. 17.
Taylor began his 10th year as superintendent of Bladen County Schools in 2020. Before taking the job in Bladen County, he was assistant superintendent for Clinton City Schools.
Jordan said there’s no appeal process, so the Senate’s vote is final.
“It’s over for Dr. Taylor,” Jordan said.
The Mississippi state board named an interim superintendent this week and said in a press release that it would set a timeline for its search for a permanent superintendent at a later date.
“The State Board of Education conducted a fair, competitive and rigorous application process to select the most qualified candidate to fulfill the duties of state superintendent of education,” Chairwoman Rosemary Aultman said in a statement. “The search firm we hired was helpful in giving the board direction, and we are confident we selected the best candidate.”
The Senate’s rejection of Taylor was mostly along party lines. Several Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of Taylor’s nomination.
Mississippi news outlets reported that the Senate rejected Taylor’s nomination due to comments he made about a newsletter he published as an undergraduate student at Southern Miss titled “The Unheard Word,” which he said gave Black students a voice on campus that the campus paper often ignored.
“‘The Unheard Word,’ in my opinion, recognized that The University of Southern Mississippi was in the most racist state in the Union, and that while historical focus has always been on the University of Mississippi, Southern Miss had a past that was tainted as well,” Taylor told the Center for Black Studies.
Mississippi’s Black lawmakers said Taylor was treated unfairly, the Associated Press reported.
“Dr. Taylor did everything that we tell people in the state of Mississippi to do — get a good education, try to use that good education, go out and get your experience and then come back to the state of Mississippi and give Mississippi all of your educational talents and all of your educational experience and give back to the community that gave to you,” Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi said.
Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers said Taylor’s performance as superintendent of Bladen County Schools worked against him. The North Carolina School Report Cards website shows that eight of the districts 15 schools earned C letter grades, six earned D’s and one school received an F in 2019. Letter grades were suspended the next two years due to the pandemic. Taylor had joined NCDPI by the time they resumed in 2022.
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