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Superintendent Porter: ‘Not The Exit Strategy I Had Anticipated’

In wake of school board’s decision not to renew his contract, Mark Porter says he was “very disappointed in how things have landed.”

The District 833 School Board last week opted not to renew the contract of Superintendent Mark Porter, leaving the administrative leader disappointed with how things turned out.

Porter, who has been with South Washington County Schools in some capacity for most of the past 32 years, said the board had “concerns with certain results,” though he did not elaborate on exactly what those were. He said he felt it was more related to his leadership style than what was accomplished in the district.

Board members Laurie Johnson and Jim Gelbmann opposed the move. Porter has been the superintendent since 2009.

In a statement to Woodbury Patch, Gelbmann said it was “by far the worst decision this board has ever made.”

“I believe Mark Porter has done an excellent job leading our district,” Gelbmann said. “I may not have agreed with all of his recommendations, but well-intentioned, highly committed, people can have differences of opinion on specific policy matters. It is no reason to refuse to renew an employment contract.”

Gelbmann went on to say that the district is in a strong position going forward.

“Our students' academic performance continues to improve. We offer a variety of educational and co-curricular choices for our students. We are the reason many families move into our district,” he said. “Mark deserves credit for all of these positive attributes. I regret a majority of my colleagues do not share my opinion that our district needs Mark's continued leadership if we want to continue on the path we are on.”

Board member Ron Kath told the Pioneer Press that the situation was akin to a coach-player relationship.

"Sometimes, the coach's voice isn't being heard anymore by the players. And it doesn't mean the coach is doing anything wrong, it just means they need a fresh voice," Kath said. "I personally felt like it was time to bring in a fresh voice to the district."

Porter said he hadn’t received any formal feedback from the board until the day after the decision was made. He said there were some issues that are “challenging to resolve.”

Most notably was the timing: The board opted not to renew his contract until after . And while Porter stopped short of saying the outcome may have been different, he said some may have voted differently.

“I think there are many who have expressed that,” Porter said.

Having been with District 833 for more than three decades, Porter said he will be exploring his future options.

“This is not the exist strategy I had anticipated,” he said.

In such a large school district, Porter said it’s difficult to claim success for any one thing, but he did say there were a couple of areas where his impact was felt.

First is employee negotiations. The district’s employee contracts are settled and the groups worked well over the years during those “tough conversations,” he said.

“We brought an added level of respect to the bargaining table that hadn’t been there before,” Porter said.

Second is the district leadership team that has been established, positioning South Washington County Schools well into the future, Porter said.

“Someone is going to reap the benefits,” he said.

Porter’s contract is set to expire June 30.

Board chair Leslee Boyd told the Pioneer Press that the district will start discussing a search for his replacement sometime in January.

"I very much appreciate his service to the school district over the years," Boyd said. "It's a difficult decision."

38 YEAR WDBY RESIDENT December 22, 2011 at 02:10 PM
What a crummy way to treat a dedicated employee.
Eric Berg December 23, 2011 at 12:46 AM
This is the third school district that I've heard about that did not renew its superintendent's contract without really giving a "real" reason (one of the other ones was the district I from which I graduated.) Did they put something in the water at the last school board convention? Was there a workshop or a breakout group called, "Ways to vaguely dismiss your administrator"? The "coach" analogy was perhaps the weakest analogy that I've ever heard, considering that Porter has been superintendent for less than 3 years. Sounds almost like someone's ox was getting gored and that someone put together a coalition to get some payback...but maybe that's just me. Unless the board comes forward with some sort of reason as to why Porter needed to be dismissed, the members who voted for the non-renewal of his contract will not get my vote...and I don't miss elections.
Judy Erickson December 23, 2011 at 07:07 AM
I worked for our school district for 20 years before retiring last June. Mark didn't always have my respect over the years but he earned it during his time as the superintendent of our school district. I felt that he listened to the concerns not only of the parents but the staff as well and helped make many decisions that benefited many students and families in our district. He seemed to be a fair leader and I hope the board does not come to regret their decision.
Judy Erickson December 23, 2011 at 06:48 PM
My CA daughter asked this question. What principal or other person in your district has been groomed to take his place? I thought this was an interesting point of view and time will tell.
Misty Child December 25, 2011 at 07:50 AM
Somewhere, the district has lost the focus on the children. It has become all about test scores and all about money. The kids in our district are subjected to an inordinate amount of testing, none of which has anything to do with their individual performances, their individual programming, or their plans for the future: it's numbers and only numbers for the appearance of the district. Our leadership has changed from site-based management to top-down. The tension among employees has escalated and the morale has crashed. It's no longer about what we can do for individual kids, but how we can inflate our test scores. District employees have entered this field because of the kids and that has become lost among the numbers. I don't want my child testrd and retested when the scores do not impact him as an individual: they have nothing to do with his programming, his best interists, or his future: it's nothing more than an "Oo Rah!" for the district and for property values. What happened to our passion and our compassion for these kids? It's not important anymore because it's all about the numbers.
Edward December 25, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Misty Child nailed it. This is happening nationwide. Thanks to continuing legacy from Bush and NCLB, it's anything to get high test scores, because the money hinges on it. Kids no longer matter. It's all about the numbers. Watch for major cheating on the tests. They've created a system that encourages it.

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