MISSION MEADOWS PRINCIPAL GUIDES ‘SCHOOL WITH AN INCLUSIVE HEART’
By Ray Huard
Bill Porter had a good job that paid well selling medical rehabilitation equipment.
That was until he went to an elementary school to show how the equipment would work for a student with disabilities.
“When I started walking on campus, the whole feeling came back,” Porter said.
The feeling was Porter’s abandoned dream to become a teacher.
“It sparked that thought again, this is what I really want to be,” Porter said.
He had given up on his dream in the early 1980’s, when friends who were teachers got laid off, or couldn’t find work.
When the dream resurfaced, Porter quit his job, became a stay-at-home dad during the day, and went to night classes at California State University (CSU) San Marcos to earn his teaching credentials.
It’s a decision that Porter has never regretted as he went from being a special education classroom teacher in Del Mar to principal of Mission Meadows Elementary School in a portion of Oceanside that’s included in the Vista Unified School District. About a third of the students in Vista Unified live in Oceanside.
The biggest thing that makes this school special is, we have a caring environment,” Porter said. “Everybody on campus goes above and beyond to make everyone feel special.”
That includes Porter, said Marla Williams, a fifth grade teacher who’s been at Mission Meadows for 21 years.
“Of the principals we’ve had here, he’s got to be one of the easiest to talk to,” Williams said. “He feels like his job is to support us, not tell us what to do. It’s, ‘How can I help you do your job?’”
Cardie Edgar, a library technician at Mission Meadows for the past six years, said that Porter makes it a point to get to know the families whose children attend the school.
“I would say he’s very caring and he’s a compassionate person. He’s pretty upbeat, and supportive,” Edgar said. “The supportive thing matters very much.”
That support shows in the school library, which is bigger than those at some other elementary schools.
Before Porter arrived, two classrooms were combined to create the library, but Edgar said that from his first day on the job, Porter has made the library a priority, making sure that there’s money in the budget for library supplies and encouraging her drive to make it an inviting place for kids, with furniture that lets them sprawl on the floor or sit in comfy chairs instead of desks.
“We’re really pushing reading,” Edgar said.
The school’s motto, as cited by Porter, is that Mission Meadows is,
“The school with an inclusive heart, where you are able to be your authentic self in an inclusive environment.”
With an enrollment of 585 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, Mission Meadows is one of five schools in Vista Unified that has classrooms for children with moderate to severe learning disabilities – one for students in kindergarten through second grade and one for children in third through fifth-grades.
The school also has a learning center for students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, who spend most of their time in general education classes.
“We have an amazing special education program here,” Porter said. “We are the model.”
During the 2015-2016 school year, Mission Meadows converted a former computer lab into a MakerSpace, where students learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lessons by tinkering.
“We put them in an environment where they feel they’re scientists, they feel they’re engineers,” Porter said.
Mission Meadows is tucked away in the quiet neighborhood of Jeffries Ranch on the eastern edge of Oceanside.
“Jeffries Ranch does a lot to support us. A lot of families are involved,” Williams said. “We even have families involved that no longer have students at the schools.”
Edgar described Mission Meadows as “the small town school in a big city.”
“It’s kind of the little hidden gem kind of thing Williams said.
Jeffries Ranch is a horsey community, with riding trails threaded throughout the neighborhood – a feature that made Porter feel he’d found the perfect place when he was appointed principal in August 2013.
Horseback riding is one of Porter’s passions. Three times a week, he rides a Friesian gelding named Uther Pendragon along trails in Poway.
“I grew up with horses,” Porter said.
Growing up in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, Porter said he was a regular at nearby stables, where he learned how to train horses. The stables have since closed.
A graduate of San Diego’s Madison High School, Porter earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing from San Diego State University after serving four years in the Navy on active duty and three years in the Navy Reserve as a senior hospital corpsman.
“I joined the Navy to see the world,” Porter said, but he wound up stationed at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.
It was there that he met his wife, Monica Joynt, who is human relations director at Acadia Pharmaceuticals. At the time, she was stationed at Balboa as a nurse.
They have three sons – Conor, 22, who just graduated from the University of Kansas, where he studied political science and journalism; and 27-year-old twins Colin, a second lieutenant U.S. Marine Corps logistics officer, and Keegan, a Benedictine Catholic monk at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.
Porter has a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in school administration from CSU San Marcos. He also received a doctorate degree from the joint doctoral program at the University of California San Diego and CSU San Marcos in educational leadership.
He is fluent in American Sign Language – a skill he picked up at Madison High School after seeing other students signing in the cafeteria during lunch.
In 2016, Porter was named General Education Administrator of the Year for Special Education by the North County Consortium for Special Education.
“I been called a Renaissance man by friends and family, because I was always looking for something new and interesting to learn, which is probably a great trait to have in the education profession,” Porter said. “I’m also working on my Spanish skills.”
He’s also fond of singing, although he’s never sung professionally.
“I’m always singing in the car and around the house,” Porter said, bursting into song to demonstrate as he sat in his office.
He also sings at school assemblies and welcomes new students with the school song
“Then, they become official Mustangs, when they hear that song,” Porter said, referring to the Mustang school mascot.