The name Michael Taylor is well known throughout the Malverne school district.
Coach Taylor, as many call him, is the founder and president of the a youth football program started in 2010. He helped to bring, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, to Malverne for the first time last spring and he's constantly mentoring and coaching young local athletes in various sports including Little League Baseball and Malverne High School's JV girls softball.
Yes, Taylor admits he loves sports, but more importantly, he says he likes to better his community and bring happiness to others. "I'm a nurturer. I like to see people smile...it makes me smile. That's why I do so much in the community," he says.
It's with this mindset that Taylor, a stay-at-home dad with two kids, hopes he can serve as a unifying force for the Malverne school district by running for the Board of Education this May. (UPDATE: Taylor will be running for the seat of Trustee Karen Aker, who announced that she will be retiring from the board.)
"I actually decided to run last year, but I didn't go through with it because I wanted to get more of a grasp of what's going on with the community," he told Patch.
So what did he observe during the past year?
"The major issue is people are just not getting along," says the 7-year Lakeview resident. "They are not understanding that it's not about them, it's about the community as a whole, and our kids. Everyone's lost sight of that."
Taylor, who grew up in what he described as a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, and attended the public schools there, said he thinks his background will enable him to bring a different perspective to the school board if he is elected. Not one to get caught up in politics, he says he brings to the table "an ability to reason" that he believes is lacking right now.
"You don't need everything to be successful," he says. "Some of the things we have are a luxury and not a necessity."
In order to tackle all of the district's problems - from its budgetary challenges and academic performance to race relations, Taylor wants to tear down the "smokescreens" that have prevented open, honest and productive conversations from happening in the past and confront the issues head-on.
"The truth sometimes hurts, but it has to come out," he says. "It's time for change."
Among the things that need to be adjusted, he points out, are the attitudes of the district's residents, administration and staff.
"Some of the issues we have are because we are blinded and have perceptions on how a group of people are," he says. He's noticed that many people, especially those who have lived in the community for the past 40 or 50 years, harbor a "sense of entitlement" and "attitudes toward minorities."
"They haven't gotten over how the school district was then," when it was going through integration, he said, citing the backlash that resulted last spring over a after Elizbeth Carol Cherry, an African American woman who graduated from the district and devoted most of her teaching career to its students.
"These are the residents I want to challenge," Taylor added. "We need to educate people so the cycle of ignorance can stop."
He'd also like to see efforts made to better understand why a substantial amount of Malverne residents send their kids to parochial schools, and encourage them to bring their students back into the district.
"We need to figure out our kids who live in this community...What's it going to take to get atleast half of them back into the school district," he says, explaining that these students could be positive influences on others in Malverne's schools.
Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, Taylor, who has a Master's degree in Management from PolyTech University, worked in business for 20 years. His wife is an assistant princpal in the Baldwin school district, so he's no stranger to how the education system works.
In his opinion, Malverne residents are "too busy worrying about how much people make," most likely referring to the much-talked-about six-figure salary of Superintendent James Hunderfund. "They make what they make because at the end of the day, they are probably entitled to it," he says. "In a school district, you don't write your own checks. Someone has to approve it."
Taylor thinks the district's current hiring process is "flawed," but he's less concerned with it hiring minority teachers than he is with making sure it is finding good teachers who will serve as positive role models and go above and beyond for their students.
"A good teacher comes in all shapes and sizes," he says. "I'm not saying the best teacher is black or white, but I don't know if we do a good job of recognizing a good teacher. Either we have a loophole in our hiring system or we do a horrible job as district of keeping teachers motivated."
And while he's not a fan of quota systems, he would like to see a certain number of teachers coming out of the local community. Plus, he thinks diversity training should be mandatory for all faculty members.
Echoing what others in the community have often expressed, Taylor would also like to see the district raise the academic expectations it sets for students, as well as its teachers, suggesting the latter should lead by example.
Drawing from his coaching experience, he says teachers need to show more respect for their students. "A child knows when you're just doing the bare minimum because kids test you," he says. "They respect the teachers who go above and beyond, who have patience and show they care."
And as for sports, ofcourse Coach Taylor wants to keep them. "Cutting sports is a crushing thing to a community," he says, and predicts many parents who could afford to would pull their kids out of the district if sports suffered. To him, sports are more than just games. They keep students out of trouble and provide a healthy way for them to expend energy so they are less disruptive at home and more productive in class, he says.
In the coming weeks, Taylor plans to set up a one-on-one appointment with the district's business adminstrator to get a better understanding of the budget, but he says, "My first goal is for kids to have what they need. Taxes are always going to be an issue."
He doesn't plan to make any promises if elected, since he'll be just one voice on a board of five, but he says he will "fight the fight" for what he believes is right.
Stay with Patch for more coverage of the school board elections in Malverne and the 2012-2013 budget.