After a 38-year career with the Nevada School District, Nancy Port is ready to try something new. Retirement.
When the present school year ends, Port, who has taught third grade and in the elementary multi-age program, had been an assistant principal and most recently has served as the district’s director of school improvement, will pack up her things and head out to live the rest of her life, spending more time with her family, which includes three “adorable grandchildren.”
“I will miss the people that I work with,” Port admits. “When we moved to Nevada, the people at work became my extended family. They helped us raise our children, and they stood beside me through some very difficult times. I feel very fortunate to work with such amazing people.”
Port is a native of Rhode Island, whose family moved to New Hampshire right before her freshman year of high school. She found her way to Iowa via her husband, Gordon, a young man she met in Hanover, N.H., when he was in the service and stationed in New England. Gordon, originally from Iowa (the town of Akron), couldn’t find a job out east, so he came back to Iowa and brought his bride, Nancy, along. “We were only going to be here (in Iowa) for three years, and 39 years later, we’re still here,” she said.
Gordon found the job he was looking for with the Iowa Department of Transportation, where he works as a civil engineer. The couple raised two boys in Nevada: Derek, who is now senior consultant for Application Development at Avanade in Maple Grove, Minn., and Aaron, who is an applications team leader for Hormel in Austin, Minn. Derek and his wife, Keri, have a 3-year-old daughter, Evey. Aaron and his wife, Lynne, have two children, Maddie, 4, and Max, 1.
Port said she knew she wanted to be a teacher from the time she herself was in third grade. “My elementary teachers were so kind. I thought about doing something else when we moved to New Hampshire, but then I had some great teachers in high school (there) and that helped me get back to what I knew I wanted to do,” she said.
She earned her undergraduate degree from State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and later in her career, she earned a graduate degree from Iowa State University.
She remembers that on her first day teaching at Central Elementary School in Nevada, she was more nervous than the her third-grade students who were coming to school that day. “I always worried about doing my best to help kids learn.”
Teaching at the elementary level was a huge undertaking for her, as it is with all elementary teachers, and for Port, the emphasis was on reading. “I always wanted to teach young children to read, and about the importance of reading.”
In the 1990s, Port had the opportunity to be part of a new program at the elementary — the multi-age program, which is still going strong today. The program puts children of different grades in the same classroom, and allows them to have the same teacher for at least two years in a row.
“A team of us wanted to try to do something different for kids, and the thought of having students for more than one year really appealed to me,” Port said. “It helped cut down on the ‘getting to know you’ phase at the beginning of the year, and the kids came the first day, knowing a routine and ready to get busy learning. The older students were always ready to help the younger students get into our routine.”
When 2004-05 rolled around, Port, who had a few years earlier also taken on the roll of assistant elementary principal, took on another change in her career. “There were going to be budget cuts. Our superintendent was retiring, and Mr. (Jim) Walker was going to start as superintendent the following fall. We discussed me having any interest in the position (of school improvement director). I agreed to this position because the assistant principal position at the elementary was going to be cut, and I thought (working with curriculum) would be a new challenge.”
Even though quite different from a teaching position, Port said she has enjoyed working on curriculum and other school improvement issues with the staff, K-12. “It was challenging for me to take off my elementary hat and think more globally, but it really helped me grow.”
As school improvement director, Port notes her biggest challenge has been the “No Child Left Behind” legislation and all of its mandates. “While the thought behind the legislation was good, the way the schools are measured, by one test, goes against all I believe about exciting students and teachers about education,” she said.
As far as the challenges that lie ahead, Port said those will revolve around the “way we do business in education and making schools more relevant in the real world.” She hopes educators will take the focus off testing and put it more on learning.
What she’s appreciated most about her 38 years at the Nevada Schools, Port said, is “the collegiality and the willingness to try to do whatever it takes to help students be successful. I would like to thank everyone for putting up with me for so long, and for all the laughs and the tears. It has been a blast!”