School Committee Chair John Portz oversaw his final meeting earlier this month, ending not only 16 years on the School Committee but more than 25 years serving the residents of Watertown.
At the Dec. 4 meeting, Portz’s colleagues paid tribute to his dedication to the students of Watertown, his steady leadership, and for focusing on working as a team.
With four terms on the School Committee and eight more years on the Town Council, Portz has been involved in Watertown government for more than 26 years. He started when he ran, unsuccessfully, for District D Town Councilor. A year later he was appointed to the Council when a seat became vacant. He ran for re-election and won.
After eight years on the Council, Portz said he wanted some change.
“The Council does important work, but my life and career are closely related to education,” said Portz, who noted that both of his parents were teachers and at one point all his siblings were in teaching, from third grade to the college level. He had taught in a high school outside Chicago for a time, and now is a professor of political science at Northeastern University.
For the past 16 years he has been on the School Committee and served as chair for the last several years.
“I’ve made my contributions but I think it has always been a group effort,” Portz said. “We always worked that way. We are only as good as the work we do together.”
Portz thanked his wife, Meredith, “who never believed me when I said it would be a short meeting.” Also, his daughter, Elisa, who was born between his first and second Council campaigns; and his son, Marcos, who will finish his Watertown Public School career next year.
In addition, he thanked all the School Committee members he worked with, along with the educators and the community members he worked with during his tenure. He also thanked the Town Council and Manager Michael Driscoll for being strong supporters of education.
“I especially thank the School Committee chairs I worked with: Tony Paolillo and Eileen Hsu-Balzer, and also (Council President) Mark (Sideris) who I worked with on the Council many years ago and who has been a valuable partner in supporting education.”
Sideris said his relationship with Portz goes even farther back than the Council to when the both served on the Arsenal Development Corp.
“John’s name is on a plaque in front of the (Mosesian) arts center for people who played a key role in some of the transformations on the corridor — something John does not get a lot of credit for,” Sideris said.
Along with always working as a member of the team, Sideris said he thought of Portz as being “steadfast,” including during some of the tough times, such as when the Watertown Public Schools faced budget cuts during the downturn of the economy in the early 2010s.
“I am going to miss John because John is a very thoughtful, very caring — a caring father, a caring husband, and most of all he cares for the children of this community,” Sideris said. “And I think that shows over the 16 years, and I am proud to say I had an opportunity to serve with John in a variety of roles.”
School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley thanked Portz for being a mentor as well as for the work that has helped the Watertown Schools and the community.
“It has been a privilege to work with John for 6 years. He taught me a lot over the 6 years about process, small ‘D’ democracy, and the importance of the team,” Foley said. “Your leadership, your support, your tutoring, and your training has been invaluable. I am very grateful for your friendship, your leadership and your guidance. It will be sad to have you leave here, but we will still call you.”
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said Portz helped her when she first got on the School Committee two years ago, and thanked him for the work he has done for Watertown.
“I really appreciate how John really scoops up new people in the role and helps them understand the full picture, the scope of the work, the limit of the work, and what it takes to get it done,” Mosca said. “I am so thankful for the work done in the 25 before I got to this role and before my children got to the schools, because the groundwork was laid for a very great experience. I am so proud to be a citizen of this Town and be a big part of it. A lot of it has to do with the work John has done to get us there.”
Portz said he became chair around the same time that Superintendent Dede Galdston arrived in Watertown, and they learned their respective roles together. Galdston said Portz has been a great partner.
“Thank you very much for what you have done for this community, and it has been great sitting to the left of you (at meetings),” Galdston said. “I certainly will miss you as a partner in everything we do in the schools.”
The School Committee presented Portz with a framed illustration of the historic facade of Watertown High School.
Portz had a list of accomplishments which he was proud to have helped to have brought to the Watertown Schools during his time on the School Committee:
- FLES — bringing Spanish into elementary grades
- Curriculum coordinators — going from skeleton structure to a much more robust system
- Instructional coaches — which were added in his time
- Collective bargaining — he was on the negotiating team for five cycles of contract bargaining
- Centering the district around excellence, equity and community and making racial and social justice central to the work of the district
- Building schools for the future — building two new elementary schools, renovating and expanding one elementary, and building a new high school which will provide state of the art learning environments for students, while also meeting the highest standard in energy efficiency and sustainability, and
- Moving forward with school climate surveys and school quality frameworks to help inform the work of the district and also provide an important link for parents and the community
Portz wished his colleagues well as they continued their work.
“I close my time on the Committee thankful for the experience, albeit with some mixed emotions,” Portz said. “There is still much work to do and the Committee has a very full agenda in the coming year. I feel a little guilty about that … but not too guilty.
“I still have my day job, and will continue working on the School Building Committee.”