Meet Paideia’s Next Head of School
Thomas E. Taylor has been head of the upper school at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York, since 2020. He served as the upper school director for Breck School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from 2013 to 2020 and is completing a doctorate in education policy and leadership from the University of Minnesota.
Thomas E. Taylor applied for only one head-of-school position — the one at Paideia. Tom first learned about Paideia in college from his future wife Sara, who grew up in Atlanta. The school’s national reputation as a leading progressive and independent school where students’ needs are prioritized resonated with Tom and became a dream school that he kept his eyes on. After a series of interviews with students, faculty and staff, Tom knew that Paideia was the place for him.
“During my visits, I met with students who were very curious about what Paideia would look like with different leadership. I love seeing students have ownership over their educational environment because it helps them learn more comprehensively. I see that in Paideia.”
The board and search committee were very clear from the start that the new head of school must care for Paideia in a way that is faithful, personal and communal. This care is an important component in honoring the small group of parents who founded an independent progressive school in the South in 1971 and invited Paul Bianchi to lead it.
After Paul announced his retirement in January 2022, Wayne Aaron, the chair of Paideia’s Board of Trustees, tapped alumni parent and former Paideia Board of Trustees member Melba Hughes to lead the search process.
Early on, the search committee hired Carney, Sandoe & Associates to lead an international search that generated more than 200 candidates. Carney, Sandoe & Associates led the initial interview process and narrowed the list to 15 candidates, including seven women and 10 people of color.
Five candidates were then invited for on-campus visits. During these visits, more than 40 faculty, students and staff met with candidates, and three finalists emerged. These finalists returned to campus and met with faculty, students and staff, then Carney, Sandoe & Associates finalized the process by conducting an anonymous follow-up survey. The search committee met to review all information and recommended Tom Taylor for the head-of-school position, and Paideia’s Board of Trustees then voted to approve Tom’s appointment. Wayne commended the commitment, care and effort that the Paideia search committee, students, faculty and staff demonstrated during the search and believes that the recommendation and selection of Tom represents a consensus from the interactions, feedback and data that the search firm and search committee received and analyzed.
“After a comprehensive and rewarding search that spanned three countries and eight U.S. states, we are confident we have found in Tom Taylor the ideal candidate to build on Paideia’s legacy as one of our nation’s leading progressive schools,” said Board of Trustees Chair Wayne Aaron.
As the head of the search committee, Melba is confident that Tom will be a great addition to the Paideia community as he works to uphold the essence of what makes Paideia a leader in progressive education and begins thinking about the ways that Paideia can evolve amid a changing education landscape.
“Tom is a warm, energetic, and forward-thinking leader,” said search committee head Melba Hughes. “Not only has he demonstrated a strong affinity for the unique values and culture that have distinguished The Paideia School as one of the leading progressive schools in the nation; he truly understands what makes it a special place for those who spend our days here. This understanding, paired with his considerable experience, suits him marvelously to lead the school into its next chapter.”
Tom recognizes the responsibility that he has as a person of privilege and has approached this responsibility as an obligation to ensure that the spaces where he leads are as inclusive as possible. Part of this work has come to life through his dissertation, where he examines the systemic barriers that impede inclusion efforts.
“I carry a lot of privilege in the way I show up in the world, and so I’ve taken it on as an obligation to make sure that the spaces I occupy and am responsible for curating are as inclusive as possible — and I look forward to continuing The Paideia School’s important work in this area. Throughout my research, both academic and personal, into equality and belonging, I’ve realized that those who exist with privilege can (and should) support and build programs for equity and inclusion, but to be successful, we must also act to remove the barriers to that work.”
With a passion for teaching, Tom moved into administrative positions as a way to positively impact the overall school environment. He identified opportunities to nurture faculty through support and professional development, which ultimately improved the student experience. His work as director of financial aid and outreach gave him another opportunity to observe, learn and support equality and belonging.
“My own experience as a kid on financial aid in an independent high school was informative to me, and it’s something that I have kept in my mind as I pursued teaching and administration. That experience helped me approach my role as a person who looks to build an inclusive and welcoming community – a community that fosters meaningful belonging for every single student, regardless of their race, gender expression and identity, or socioeconomic status.”
Tom’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is reflected in his professional background and training. He understands that an accepting community provides security and support for all members to live authentically and is committed to working with Paideia’s DEI team to review, establish and realize DEI goals that advance Paideia’s efforts to create an inclusive community that is grounded in equality and belonging.
Get to know Tom Taylor
As Paideia’s head of school, Tom will continue to honor the history and traditions that respect faculty and staff’s autonomy to create the best environment for students and their individual learning styles. Tom will also encourage and cultivate further collaboration to organize and steward resources across schools and programs. With a strong background in selecting and retaining outstanding faculty, Tom will continue to oversee hiring that reflects Paideia’s Framework of Values while strengthening and following best practices for inclusive faculty and staff searches.
Throughout the search, Tom demonstrated his genuine love for the teaching and energy that encompasses a K-12 school environment. Paideia will benefit culturally and academically from his experience and from the honesty and integrity he demonstrated throughout interviews and interactions with students, faculty and staff.
“The laughter in every meeting I went to and the sense of joy that permeates everything is so palpable. I’m excited to be joining a school that lives its values by centering joy and the joy of learning so clearly and consistently.”
Tom held faculty and administrative positions at Breck School and Riverdale Country School. Those experiences provided him with the background and knowledge to understand and embrace Paideia’s culture as the Paideia community moves forward together. His warmth and humor will help the school easily adapt to the journey ahead.
Tom received his BA in physics and theater from Oberlin College in 2004 and his MA from Columbia University, and he is currently completing his PhD in education policy and leadership from the University of Minnesota.
Paideia’s Board of Trustees appointed a search committee in January 2022 following Paul Bianchi’s announcement that he would retire on June 30, 2023, after serving as head of school for 52 years. The committee led a thoughtful, rigorous and inclusive process to hear the needs of the Paideia community. The process included:
- Hiring search firm Carney, Sandoe & Associates
- Surveying faculty, staff, alumni and parents to determine the qualities, experience and skills of the next head of school
- Interviewing 15 first-round candidates
- Selecting five candidates to visit campus for day-long interviews in May 2022
- Selecting three finalists to return for a two-day comprehensive visit
The search included a survey of faculty and staff to identify the qualities that were essential for the next head of school. Four attributes emerged from the survey:
- Leadership that includes personal and professional integrity, emotional intelligence, collaboration and community building, empathy and trust, and a caring and respectful attitude toward all.
- Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) demonstrating profound appreciation for racial, ethnic and cultural diversity; a track record of fostering a sense of belonging for all; and dedication to furthering the work of current and future DEI efforts at Paideia.
- Appreciation for Teaching and Principles of Pedagogy through the pursuit of lifelong learning, a strong trust in teachers and a history of pedagogically sound teaching methods.
- Community Builder who is fully present and engaged in life and school community, possesses a love for progressive education, understands the head-of-school role in community as well as holds profound respect for the history and culture of school and community.
Following the community survey, the search committee conducted 15 video interviews, including interviews with seven women and 10 people of color. Five candidates were then invited for on-campus visits. During these visits, more than 40 faculty, students and staff met with candidates, and three finalists emerged. These finalists returned to campus and met with faculty, students and staff, then Carney, Sandoe & Associates finalized the process by conducting an anonymous follow-up survey. The search committee met to review all information and recommended Tom Taylor for the head-of-school position.
Throughout this process, the search committee was committed to addressing the needs and wants of the Paideia community. Their charge was clear: identify a head of school who will uphold the core essence of Paideia as a school and community throughout this period of change and guide us as a community into this next phase.
Tom has the experience, passion and ability to lead Paideia as we transition into a new chapter for the school. We are confident that Tom will be able to serve Paideia as an inclusive, visionary leader whose leadership aligns with our identity, culture and heart.
- What search process was used to select the new head of school?
- Who served on the search committee?
- How were Paideia’s search committee members prepared for the interview process?
- How were interviews conducted?
- Were Paideia faculty and staff part of the search process?
- How were the candidates narrowed and selected for the next round?
- How were the first 15 candidates selected?
- How did the final candidates fare in the ratings?
- How did Paideia evaluate the final candidates and was the process consistent across the three finalists?
- Did the search committee vote on the candidates? If so, what was the outcome?
- Paideia expresses a commitment to diversity, how does Tom meet that commitment?