It’s the rare student who can say that his headmaster played in the NBA. The children at Teleos Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Ariz., can do just that. They look up to Brian Taylor ’84, who strides down the hallways dishing out hugs and encouragement.
After joining Teleos Prep, a K-8 charter school, in April, Taylor was charged with raising achievement at his school — where just over half the 174 students tested in 2012 passed the state math exam. Teleos Prep earned a C on its last report card; he’s aiming to turn that into an A this year.
Taylor is the fifth headmaster in Teleos Prep’s four years, but he isn’t fazed. The former point guard has spent the past 10 years launching and leading charter schools in Los Angeles. The low-income, minority students at View Park Prep, where Taylor was headmaster, are much like the children at Teleos Prep — and “much like myself,” says Taylor, who grew up in a housing project in Perth Amboy, N.J., looking for inspiration. He found it 30 miles away from home, at Princeton.
Taylor scored 1,239 points in two seasons under coach Pete Carril before receiving an offer to go pro after his junior year. “I was 20 years old, worth about $10, and I was offered a half-million dollars in 1972,” he says. Taylor quips that his dad advised him to “take the money and run.”
Run he did, with Julius Erving on the New York Nets and later with the San Diego Clippers until a torn Achilles tendon ended his career. Taylor returned to Princeton and finished his degree in politics with a certificate in African-American studies in 1984. Following a stint in computers, he decided to pursue his childhood ambition of becoming a teacher and joined the faculty at Harvard-Westlake School, a private school in Los Angeles. After a decade of teaching, coaching basketball, and working in admissions, Taylor became a founding board member of the Inner City Education Foundation, a system of L.A. charter schools.
Teleos Prep is concentrating on improving students’ reading ability and critical-thinking skills, he says. All students take Latin; they read Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Twain; and starting in fourth grade, they use the Socratic method. It may seem a lot to ask of a 10-year-old, but Taylor has a trick for getting the kids to listen: “I use basketball to hook them in, and then we talk about education.”