(April 5, 2019) Lou Taylor, superintendent of Worcester County Public Schools, is recognizing the good behavior and actions students perform in the classrooms and in their community, and presenting them with Challenge Coin awards.
“I decided to do this Challenge Coin, which is based off the service in the Army and Navy, Marines, etc. They give medallions when soldiers do great things,” Taylor said. “My main purpose for the Challenge Coin is to encourage kids who are faced with some kind of difficult situation.”
Taylor reached out to principals of all 14 schools asking about students who have faced an obstacle, but continued to come to school, work hard and participate in activities.
His first Challenge Coin was awarded in December to Snow Hill Middle School student Jake Newcomer, who is currently battling leukemia.
“[This is] a student who is a total warrior in his fight against cancer,” Taylor said. “His courage and unwavering spirit were so well deserving of this honor, and it was very moving for me personally to be a part of such a special moment.”
Students who continue to work hard inside and outside the classroom are rewarded as well, like Alesia Wagner from Pocomoke High School.
“She is a young lady who works to help support her family,” Taylor said. “She also takes care of her younger siblings on a daily basis, and holds leadership roles. In the school she is one of the officers in the ROTC program. She is an amazing young lady who has faced some basic challenges of life, but still comes to school every day with a positive attitude and a willingness to make a difference in the lives of herself as well as all those around her.”
Another student who earned the award was Logan Donmoyer, of Berlin Intermediate School, for his academic success.
“Logan is truly gifted academically,” Taylor said. “While in the intermediate school, he is taking our Algebra I course. Getting to talk with him during this coin presentation, it was clear he was well deserving of this recognition.”
Students like Jose Ruiz-Romero of Stephen Decatur Middle School are awarded for their hard work in school, but also for their kindness and respect for others. Ruiz-Romero regards Worcester County Deputy Sheriff Gary Holtzman as his personal hero, and even wore a K-9 T-shirt to his award presentation, which Holtzman attended.
Zoe Pendleton, of Ocean City Elementary School, was presented a Challenge Coin award for her kindness toward others as well. She is the first student in Ocean City Elementary School to receive the award.
To date, Taylor has presented close to a dozen students a Challenge Coin award. The latest award was given on March 14 to Snow Hill Middle School student, Christian Russell, who went out of his way to help another student.
“It was snowing and raining and a mess outside,” Taylor said. “A young student who has Down Syndrome was struggling to get into school, and without anybody looking, this boy dropped his books and ran out and helped that kid in. Nobody asked him to do it and went and picked up this little boy’s stuff and helped him walk in school.
“So many people saw it that my phone started to ring off the hook,” he continued. “Even staff who work at the central office came to my office that morning and said, ‘Mr. Taylor, if there was ever a Challenge Coin presentation, I got one for you.’”
Taylor emphasized the importance of recognizing when students do the right thing.
“Kids are sometimes criticized for the things they do, and maybe rightfully so, but there are three times as many kids who do the right things who are faced with challenges that are tough to persevere through … and yet they do them,” Taylor said. “I wanted to make a difference in making sure when kids are doing things good and right with the challenges that they face, that they hear about that as well.
“These students are represented of the best that Worcester County has to offer,” he continued. “They show strong character, grit and perseverance, intelligence, kindness and good citizenship.”
Taylor was recently honored for his strong character and citizenship when he was surprised during the Worcester County Public School 150th celebration Gala last Friday with a nomination for the 2019 National School Public Relations Association Superintendent to Watch recognition program.
The program recognizes school district leaders who have fewer than five years of experience as a superintendent and who demonstrate dynamic, fast-paced leadership with strong communication at its core. Honorees use communication technology in innovative and effective ways to engage and inform their school communities and to expand two-way communication and outreach efforts.
“Back in December, I nominated Mr. Taylor for the National School Public Relations Association,” Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of public relations and special programs for Worcester County Schools, said. “I could think of no one better than Mr. Taylor to be honored in this way. He is a leader that truly values communication as a core tenet of his administration, even elevating communication to be one of the pillars of our school system strategic plan.”
Taylor was shocked by the nomination and said he feels honored and humble.
“I was very much taken by surprise,” Taylor said. “I don’t do it to be recognized, it’s just who I am. I’ve received awards over my career and I’m not in this business to get rewarded for things, but it’s also nice to be recognized … not only for myself personally, but for those who work with me every day, and also for our community to understand what’s taking place in the school system of the community we serve.
“Everything we do is a team effort,” he continued. “It’s about the team here. Although sometimes I get the honors it takes us all to make this thing work.”
Taylor is one of 14 superintendents in the nation to receive this year’s recognition. He is only the second superintendent in Maryland to receive this honor, Sterrs said.
Taylor and the other recipients will be honored at the National School Public Relations Association national conference this July in Washington, D.C., and he will have a featured profile in its national newsletter as well.