Incoming NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter became a rising star in the city Department of Education despite spending just 1 1/2 years as a teacher, causing some educators to debate her qualifications to run the nation’s largest school system.
Porter, a community organizer before joining the DOE, helped create the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice in 1997, the first in the Urban Assembly non-profit network of more than 20 city schools.
After working as an assistant to founding principal David Banks for about three years, Porter started teaching English at the school in September 2001, officials said.
But her classroom stint ended in February 2003, when she was named assistant principal, the officials said.
Six months later, she was promoted to principal after Banks left to launch the Eagle Academy Foundation, a network of all-boys’ public schools.
“It was a quick ascension, but there was no one better to lead that school,” Banks told The Post. “Nobody was more committed, nobody knew more about the school, beside me, than her. She was the heart and soul of the place — the two of us were.”
Unlike other DOE superintendents, Porter never earned a permanent teaching license. At that time, she didn’t need one to become a school administrator, according to the state education department. The state now requires three years of prior teaching experience.
But in New York City, educators can’t become principals without at least seven years of teaching or other instructional jobs such as a guidance counselor, under rules enacted by former Chancellor Carmen Fariña soon after she took the helm in 2014.
“Principals must have credibility and credibility only comes with experience,” Fariña said at the time.
Experts agree. “Principals need to be instructional experts, and I don’t know how that level, generally, can be reached in less than five years,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Grad Center.
Porter served as principal at the same Bronx high school for 10 years. In 2015, Fariña appointed her Bronx superintendent.
“She’s been in the right place at the right time, but she’s good,” Banks said. “She’s someone who really, really listens to the community and people are drawn to her. She’s a big personality.”
Months after succeeding Fariña in 2018, Chancellor Richard Carranza created nine new executive superintendent posts, and tapped Porter as the one to oversee all Bronx schools.
Mayor de Blasio named Porter, 47, to replace the departing Carranza at the same salary, $363,346. She starts on Monday.
“How is she qualified to be a chancellor?” a skeptical Brooklyn principal asked. “Under the current guidelines, she couldn’t even become a principal, given her lack of experience. She was a super fast track.”
In choosing a new chancellor, the mayor passed over other superintendents with teaching licenses, including several of color. Among them:
• Clarence Ellis, superintendent in Brooklyn’s District 17, earned permanent certificates in special education as well as in nursery school, Kindergarten and grades 1-6.
• Mauricière de Govia, executive superintendent in Queens South, has a permanent certificate in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and grades 1-6.
• Karen Watts, executive superintendent in Brooklyn North, has a permanent certificate in chemistry and general science, grades 7-12.
But Banks noted that former Chancellor Joel Klein, appointed by ex-mayor Mike Bloomberg, “never spent a minute in the classroom. He was a business guy.” Klein required a state waiver to serve as chancellor.
“The DOE is a $32 billion industry responsible for overseeing buses, food and everything else. You’re not the top teacher, you’re running the entire system,” Banks said.
“Meisha has been a wonderful educator. She cares deeply about kids and families. She knows how to improve schools, and get the community to buy in.”
The Bronx school where Porter spent 24 years moved into a new, $75 million building next to the Bronx criminal courthouse. Students get to visit judges and lawyers serving as mentors. More than a dozen law firms and companies — including News Corp, which owns The New York Post — have offered internships, according to Insideschools.org.
In 2007, Porter’s school received an “F” grade under the Klein’s administration for a decline in scores on state standardized tests in math and English. She vowed to help raise the scores — but not cut back on art, foreign language or the school’s top-notch debate and mock-trial teams, which have won championships.
Last year, 82 percent of the school’s 740 students graduated in four years, and 58 percent of the grads had test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help, DOE data show.
Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor under Bloomberg, said Porter deserves credit for taking on the chancellor’s job just 10 months before Mayor de Blasio leaves office — and faced with his mandate to reopen as many schools as possible before the fall.
“Chancellors typically become acclimated to the position in considerably more than 10 months. Ten months may be her entire tenure,” Nadelstern said. “I don’t know many people who would have accepted such a challenging assignment, and I’m hopeful she has the capacity to make the most of it.”
Bill Neidhardt and Danielle Filson, spokespersons for City Hall and the DOE, called The Post “racist” for asking questions about Porter’s credentials and work history.
“The NY Post’s desperate and racist attempt to undermine her qualifications is disgraceful. She is more than qualified with over 20 years of on-the-ground experience in the school system she is leading and we will not entertain these patently false claims,” they wrote in a statement.