Renae Thomas Taylor, a cherished and award-winning Vashon teacher who pioneered Chautauqua Elementary School’s multi-age program, died on Dec. 30, 2022, in the Provo-Orem area of Utah. She was 84 years old.
Her death, said Taylor’s brother, Craig Thomas, was caused by complications from COVID-19.
Taylor, along with educators Gerie Wilson and Carolyn Candy, created the award-winning multi-age program at Chautauqua Elementary School (CES) — a program still in place in the school that combines first, second and third grades into a rich, multi-aged and multi-year learning environment, led by a team of three teachers.
The trio established the program in 1994, and it didn’t take long for them to be noticed for their innovation and excellence.
In 1996, Taylor, Wilson and Candy were awarded the Golden Apple Award, a coveted award from the PBS station, KCTS-9, that celebrates educators, programs and schools making a positive difference in Washington State education.
In accepting the award, Taylor spoke, in a video that included interviews with all three teachers as well as footage of their joyous and bustling classrooms, about the support she had received from her colleagues in the school district, and the great rewards of working with children in the program.
“When there are leaders to support your dream, it can begin,” she said. “When there are mentors and colleagues, such as those at the Chautauqua Elementary School, who help you develop the plan, then the dream can grow. But when the parents and the children live the reality every day, the joy is overwhelming.”
In 2002, Taylor was also honored with the Doors of Opportunity Award by the Vashon Island School District. The award, now given out annually by the Vashon Schools Foundation, recognizes “educators who exemplify by deed, a true spirit and grit that goes beyond their job description, opening doors and maximizing students’ potential.”
Chautauqua’s principal, Rebecca Goertzel, said that Taylor, along with Wilson and Candy, changed the way children are educated at Chautauqua.
In a statement, Goertzel detailed how many of the practices established in the multi-age program have now become best practices in all classrooms — including thematic teaching, building a strong community of learners, and meeting students at their level to help them grow.
Taylor’s former colleagues, Gerie Wilson and Carolyn Candy, shared more personal, candid memories.
Candy recalled Taylor’s tenderness and motherly instinct, and the way she would braid or brush her students’ hair if they needed that kind of assistance.
Both Wilson and Candy also described Taylor as a computer whiz, ahead of her time, who had first taught them how to access educational tools online.
They also remember her as a loving and deeply supportive colleague.
“She was so encouraging,” said Wilson. “I could be crying and she could talk me off a cliff. She was always there.”
Taylor was born on October 9, 1938, in Bingham, Utah. She graduated from South High School in Salt Lake City in 1956. She married her husband Frank, and they moved from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Hagerman, Idaho before settling in the Seattle area.
Taylor and Frank took pride in raising their four children, and opened their home to other youth, hosting international exchange students from Taiwan, Japan and other countries throughout the years. The Taylors also fostered several children for extended periods of time.
While juggling all the duties and joys of being a wife, a seminary teacher for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and a mother, Taylor graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in elementary education.
After graduation, she was hired to teach elementary school on Vashon Island in 1986 — her “dream job,” said her brother.
After her retirement, in 2003, Taylor and Frank traveled extensively, including taking a photo safari to Africa, trips to China, Taiwan and a cross-country Canadian rail trip. They also frequently took their children and grandchildren on excursions to Disneyland, Disneyworld, and other destinations around the world.
In the meantime, she remained an inspiration to many of her former colleagues and students, who recalled how she had poured her heart and soul into her work and helped shape the lives of those who were in her classroom.
“In my life, multi-age was the best and most defining part of my educational experience and Mrs. Taylor was a profound part of that experience,” said Hal Pearson, who was in the multi-age classroom from 1995 to 1998. “Her love of music, like her love for her students, had no bounds … I will treasure those childhood memories in my heart forever.”
Parents loved Taylor too.
Glenda Berliner first met Taylor as a parent volunteer — all three of her children had Taylor as a teacher.
“She was a good listener and was always warm and welcoming,” said Berliner. “She was so loving and caring; she came to the bar and bat mitzvahs of all of my children.”
In 2002, after Candy retired from teaching, Berliner became a multi-age teacher, and in working with Taylor, found new inspiration in that relationship with Taylor.
“When I was a new teacher, I often joked with her that I wanted a “What Would Renae Do?” bracelet,” Berliner said. “I still remember the advice she gave me: love your students and close the door. Don’t get attached to all the stuff outside of the door. She was very smart.”
Taylor is survived by her four children, Frank (Kathy), Scott (Jackie), Bob and Whitney, as well as her sister and three of her five brothers. She is also survived by numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her husband, Frank, preceded her in death.
She is also remembered by countless students, teachers and parents on Vashon Island.
As the author of this obituary, I am one of those students.
During my years in multi-age, Mrs. T — as I called her — made me feel like I was her only student. She made sure my education in her classroom was tailored just for me, and I was fortunate to have stayed in touch with her throughout the years.
We chatted over the phone in October of 2022 when I became engaged to another one of her past multi-age students.
My fiance and I both agree: being multi-age kids set us up for success throughout life, and Renae Taylor was a large part of that.
At her request, there will not be a formal funeral service for Taylor, but plans are being made for a celebration of life, at a later date. Notes of condolence may be sent to any of her family through her obituary page at www.walkermemorials.com.