Porter reflects on 32-year career with school district

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2012 - 9:25 PM

The South Washington County Schools superintendent will end his tenure on June 30. He says he's not yet sure what his future holds.

Mark Porter, departing superintendent of South Washington County schools

After more than 30 years in the district, South Washington County Schools Superintendent Mark Porter will serve his last day next month.

In a surprise move, the district's school board voted 5-2 at its December meeting to give notice to Porter, who was hired as superintendent in 2009, that his tenure would end on June 30.

Board members cited ineffective relationships with his staff and poor communications and leadership skills in approving the dismissal.

Porter recently reflected on his career and the district's future with the Star Tribune.

QWhat are the highlights of your tenure in South Washington?

AThe bigger scope of my career of 32 years is summarized in relationships -- the kind of relationships I have with our employees, community and with colleagues.

More specifically, during the time as superintendent, probably what I'll leave behind is the strategic plan that established very strong and high expectations for the school district for the next five years, I think. Part of that plan is to address student performance and achievement. One of the big things we've done is the PreK school-readiness initiative. We have an outstanding program in place to benefit all students and address some of the predictive gaps in student performance.

The in-between, or the other part of the leg, is employee relations. Working with bargaining groups and employees, we've got a real collaboration that I think is beneficial to everyone.

QIs there anything you would have done differently?

AThat's a loaded question under my circumstance. There are a couple of things. I'm a lifelong learner. I'm always looking for opportunities to learn and improve myself. I hope that's not a hollow statement. I hope people see a willingness in me to change and get better. Two things I would take away is a stronger insistence on a meaningful evaluation. It would have been a helpful piece of the puzzle here. I also should have given more attentiveness to individual board members' concerns. It is what it is at this point. I'm trying to look ahead and I hope the district is doing the same.

QWhat do you see as the biggest challenges for the district going forward?

AThat question is asked in every interview. I try not to start with finances. I don't think that's our biggest challenge. I continue to believe that this district and public education in general needs to shift its philosophy from a system that's driven by demand to a system that's, in part, driven by student need. If you look at public education, there are rewards you can win for being a district that provided what parents want. We have a growing number of students and families that are, in many ways, without a voice. It's beholden on a superintendent, board members and the community to be courageous enough to make decisions that will address student need and not just demand. I think that's a problem everywhere. I think it's definitely going to be a challenge here in South Washington County Schools.

Q Is there anything you will miss?

AThe list is pretty long. I don't think you spend 32 years as involved and engaged as I have been and my family has been without leaving behind an awful lot. I can't list or name them all. But absolutely at the top of the list are people. There are many, many outstanding employees and community members that have contributed to the district's success that I'll no longer have the privilege to work with to help kids in our district.

QWhat's next for you?

AAt this point, it's still unclear to me. We're exploring a lot of possibilities. I'm looking for a leadership opportunity that aligns with my skill sets. I've done work with consultants to identify my strengths and expertise. There are a wide range of opportunities. I believe in a sovereign God who will put us in the right place at the right time.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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