Photo by Nina
Photo by Nina Tisara
When John Porter started his long and varied
three-decade career with the Alexandria City
Public School system, his goal was “to get a
job that paid the bills."
By alexandrianews.org - staff
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - When John Porter
first entered an Alexandria City Public school, Eisenhower was in the
White House and his first grade teacher was Miss McKinney.
Last summer, more than 50 years later, he retired from ACPS and is now the
executive director of ACT for Alexandria.
Just for the record, it didn’t take Porter 50 years to graduate; he did
that in 1965. He attended Maury Elementary School, Robert E. Lee
Middle School, Jefferson School for eighth grade and George
Washington High School.
After ACPS, Porter attended North Carolina Wesleyan,
where he studied education. “I didn’t really plan to come back to
Alexandria to teach but there’s a draw to the City, especially if you
have grown up here,” he said. “I was offered a teaching contract in
North Carolina but took a chance and came home without a job.”
goal was, “to get a job that paid the bills and the only teaching
position that was open at that time in ACPS was at Parker-Gray teaching
that first year, one of his students was Alexandria Sheriff Dana
Lawhorne. “I know, it’s surprising I didn’t quit,”
Porter quipped. “Dana spent even more time in my class my third year
when I was in charge of the crisis room where teachers sent kids who
were being disruptive in class.”
After 40 years, Porter and Lawhorne are still close friends. “He was
such a nice guy that I misbehaved in class just so I could spend time
with him,” Lawhorne said. “Then, in 1986, when I became a detective
with the Alexandria Police Department, I worked with John at T. C.
Williams High School. We worked together for the next 19 years on some
very difficult issues during very difficult times in Alexandria.
Of his time at Parker-Gray, Porter said, “I
learned more in the first month of teaching than I did in undergraduate
school. I really enjoyed the time I spent at Parker-Gray.
“I really enjoyed working with elementary school children because they
are still willing to hug you and show that they really enjoy seeing
you,” Porter said.
After Ramsay, Porter went to John Adams Middle School. In
1979, Porter became the associate principal at T.C. Williams
High School under Principal Tony Hanley.
“I was the detail person who was responsible for the master schedule
and coordinating all of the logistics of running a large high school,”
Porter said. When Hanley retired in 1984, Porter became the principal at
T.C., where he remained until 2006. In 22 years, there were highs and
lows, laughter and tears.
“The most difficult time I had at T.C. was September 11, 2001. I
remember walking outside near the Career and Technical Education wing
with the ROTC major. We heard a loud noise and saw smoke coming from the
Pentagon. The major’s brother was at the Pentagon so he ran to find
out what was going on.
“Dana Lawhorne came by and told us that there was another plane that
might be headed for Washington and we put the campus in total
lockdown,” Porter said.
fall, the school faced lockdown once again when a sniper terrorized the
Metropolitan region. “We had a string of tragedies with September 11,
the sniper, a hurricane and the deaths of some of our students,”
Porter said. “The times that were the most difficult were when you
really couldn’t control the situation.”
Porter had a reputation for knowing every
student’s name at T.C. and for remembering something about the student
even after graduation. He knew two of his students particularly well:
his sons Bryan and Scott.
“He gave me the choice of going to private
school but I said no because all of my friends were going to T.C. and
that’s where I wanted to go,” said Bryan Porter, an Assistant
Commonwealth Attorney in Alexandria. “I never thought of my time at
T.C. as any harder than any other student’s. I guess that some
teachers might have been harder on my brother and me because our dad was
“I do remember one of my teachers going to
Dad’s office one day to ask where I was. I was skipping. Also, there
was the time that he picked up the phone at our house to hear one of his
own recorded messages about “˜your son or daughter missing one or
more classes’. He made it clear that I probably shouldn’t skip
classes,” Bryan said.
Porter has been involved with ACT since its inception. “In 2002, Gene
Steuerle came to me and some others in the community to talk
about a way to help Alexandria using the money that he got as a result
of his wife, Norma, dying on the plane that terrorists flew into the
Pentagon on Sept. 11,” Porter said.
As the successful chairman for Alexandria’s United Way campaign,
Porter has some experience raising money and, “he can work a room
better than anyone I know. Now, he’s going to get paid for shaking
hands with people and being friendly. It sounds like the perfect job for
him,” Bryan said.
While leaving ACPS was sad, “it was the right time and the right
job,” Porter said. “In many ways, leaving T.C. was harder. I enjoyed
my three years in Central Office but it was not the same as being
involved with the kids every day.