The new director of Escambia County Acceleration Academies is a career educator. But that doesn’t mean he’s always been keen on education.
During middle school and into high school, Mathew Taylor acknowledges, he often didn’t show up for class — or for his learning. A hotshot basketball and baseball player during middle school, he figured he would glide through high school and into the pros.
Unfortunately, administrators and teachers allowed him to coast; he wasn’t a behavior problem and he got his homework done. But he really wasn’t engaging. “That’s where they were failing me, they weren’t preparing me for the future,” he says. “They were just letting me glide though.”
By the time he reached junior year, Taylor had given up his pro dreams and realized he didn’t know what the terms “noun, verb, adjective and adverb” meant. A caring English teacher told him, “Hey, you’ve got to do better.”
“That challenged me — and I realized she was right.”
Inspired by his teacher’s high standards, Taylor tapped into his potential and began putting in the effort to excel. He went on to college, initially majored in accounting, but then realized he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his parents — both veteran public school educators in Escambia County — and teach.
After working as a 5th grade teacher, technology coordinator and assistant principal in traditional public schools, Taylor says he jumped at the chance to lead Escambia County Acceleration Academies as it enters its second year of operation.
“I want to help kids make better choices,” much as that English teacher did for him, he says. “Acceleration Academies has given me the opportunity to do that.”
The flexible schedule and personalized curriculum offered at ECAA helps students who have to work during the traditional school day to support themselves and their families, are juggling teen parenthood and school, need more one-on-one coaching, or struggle with social anxiety in crowded hallways and classrooms.
“Something as simple as walking through a crowd 8 times a day, they don’t have to do that,” says Taylor, who grew up in Pensacola, is married and has three children aged 2-9. “They can find a quiet place to settle in and just do their work.”
And with that effort comes the potential for a bright future.
Some graduation candidates “are going to be the first ones to graduate high school in their families. They might be the first ones to attend college,” he says. In one of Florida’s most economically struggling school districts, that can make a huge difference.
“When these kids have that diploma and can get better jobs, they going to be better able to support their families — and contribute to the community.”