Champaign's Taylor picks up national honor tonight
NEW YORK — Laura Taylor will get the full red carpet treatment when she arrives at a midtown Manhattan ballroom this evening for an event in her honor.
In a ritzy ceremony at Gotham Hall, Champaign Schools' assistant superintendent will be honored as national Educator of the Year at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's Respect Awards.
"It's kinda crazy," Taylor said Sunday from New York. "We will have a rehearsal in the afternoon, and the organizers are putting my speech on the teleprompter. Then in the evening, we'll have this big red carpet thing as I arrive."
GLSEN is a national organization whose mission is to ensure safe schools for all students. Its Respect Awards, which rotate annually between New York and Los Angeles, showcase the work of those who "have made a significant difference in the areas of diversity, inclusion and the safe schools movement, and who serve as exemplary role models."
Taylor is being recognized for her work founding the school district's Social Justice Committee, which she designed to provide educators the tools to tackle racism, homophobia and other forms of institutionalized discrimination against young people — both in and out of the classroom.
She has a long, proud history in that area. Before becoming Unit 4's assistant superintendent for achievement and student services, Taylor was principal of Urbana High School, where she organized students, educators and faculty members around issues of acceptance and inclusion in schools.
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard mentioned both stops in announcing Taylor as educator of the year, saying, "As both a school principal and an assistant superintendent, Dr. Taylor has shown an unfaltering commitment to improving the educational experience for youth across the board."
For Taylor, one of the highlights of tonight will be getting to share the experience with her husband, Bill, the principal at South Side Elementary School.
"I knew that Bill was of like mind when I first met him," she said. "He and I have the same outlook on things, and it is really special to have him here."
The theme of Taylor's speech tonight: courage. She'll have three minutes to deliver it.
"Sometimes people say I am brave for doing this work," she said, "but the truth is, there are dozens of kids who are brave every day just by going through school."
Taylor said the recognition of her work reflects brightly on the Champaign school district for its efforts to incorporate social justice within the fabric of an educational setting.
She defines social justice as "making sure that you take into account the structures and the ways that we do things that help some people over others. When we look at things, we notice how they are designed for certain people — and make sure they are designed for all people."
Taylor still hopes for the day when "every student becomes welcomes and loved," regardless of his or her background, station in life, language or disability.
5 things to know about tonight's Respect Awards:
1. The event's honorary co-chairs: Hollywood couple Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.
2. Individual tickets are $1,250. Tables for 10 run between $15,000 and $50,000.
3. Author/advocate Janet Mock is the night's other individual honoree. She'll get the Inspiration Award.
4. Taylor's traveling party includes South Side Principal (and husband) Bill Taylor; Centennial teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance sponsor Stacey Gross; and students Tabitha Camp (Central) and Hildegard Luijten (Centennial).
5. The ceremony will be streamed live at glsen.org/respectny14.