Carmel Valley educator Bill Porter was recently named the North County Consortium for Special Education’s General Education Administrator of the Year for Special Education. Porter, a principal in the Vista Unified School District, was selected as the standout leader out of 14 school districts in the NCCSE.
“The award was a complete surprise to me,” said a very humbled Porter.
Porter has been a resident of Carmel Valley since 1985 and taught in the Del Mar Union School District for 18 years — for many years he was a teacher at Carmel Del Mar, living so close to the school he could walk to work. He left DMUSD three years ago to join Vista Unified and to take on a new challenge as principal of Mission Meadows Elementary School.
“When I first got to Mission Meadows, you could sense that there was two schools within a school,” Porter said of the special education and general education populations, as well as the Hispanic and Caucasian populations. “Over the last three years, with a lot of support from staff, I feel we created a school with an inclusive heart for all types of learners.”
Porter first became interested in special education in high school, when he learned sign language from his deaf and hard of hearing classmates. He was fascinated with the language and went on to become an interpreter for his fellow students at San Diego State University.
His first assignment at DMUSD in 1995 was as a special education teacher, in a classroom with seven boys on the autism spectrum. For five years, Porter served as the principal of the district’s special education summer school.
“That was an amazing experience, dealing with a sensitive population of students and parents living that experience 24-7 and needing someone to understand their stories and where they were coming from,” Porter said. “They needed to know ‘We have your backs, we’re here to support you.’”
Porter could understand parents’ concerns as one of his twin sons was on a moderate IEP (individualized education program) all through his public school experience.
At Mission Meadows, there is a learning center as well as a push-in model where more students are moved into the general education population with additional support in the classrooms.
“Students with significant disabilities are getting access to the core curriculum and a diploma-based track,” Porter said. “When a student is labeled as a special education student their opportunities become more limited. With inclusion, you’re looking at a child for who they are and what they need. I believe that with the right amount of support, they can be successful in the general ed population.”
Porter said he is happy that more districts like Vista are making headway in equal access to curriculum for all students and that schools are moving away from the old model of separating special education and more toward one that celebrates inclusion.
“On my campus, the kids are blended together,” Porter said, noting they have held Ability Awareness Weeks for the past three years, where students learn what it’s like to be blind or to be immobile or have a cognitive delay. “It’s such an enriching experience, I walk away with tears in my eyes when I see a-typical peers enjoying each other’s company.”
At the NCCSE ceremony in San Marcos, Porter was impressed by all of the other award winners and by all of the amazing things happening across the county. “I was sitting there thinking ‘I hope they picked the right person!’”
During his short speech, he talked about having an understanding of the anxiety parents can have after going through his own experience with his son, getting the “We have to talk” call from the school and worrying that his son wouldn’t make it past kindergarten or be as successful as his twin brother.
“With the right support and with the right balance and with a very strong relationship between school and home, yes, they have the ability to be successful,” Porter said. ‘When I got to that point of my speech, talking to the parents, it really hit home for me that my journey has been building up to my current position…It was an overwhelming feeling for me to be there and to hear so many stories about how we, as human beings, are supporting each other.”