Fmr. Minnesotan, Now Florida Superintendent, Finds Keys’ Resilient Spirit After Irma

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Keys have been under the microscope as an epicenter of the storm’s mass destruction. The Keys are also home to a former Minnesota athlete and coach.

A few years ago, Mark Porter took a new job as the superintendent of Monroe County and the schools of the Florida Keys. When the 185-mph winds blew in the Florida Keys, there was concern and, for Porter, there was responsibility.

As a kid who grew up in Northfield, nothing could’ve prepared him for the storms last week.

“Even for those here in south Florida who have endured previous storms, and so forth, the magnitude of this storm and the scope of the impact across virtually the entire state of Florida was almost unprecedented,” Porter said. “So I don’t know if I can give you a personal comparison to it.”

He may be the right man for the job — Porter’s father Tom coached football at St. Olaf College for 33 years. Porter played for his father and learned the lessons of football.

“I think I’ve been strongly impacted by my father, both, obviously, being raised in the home but then being coached as well,” Porter said. “He was always someone who was looking for solutions and not looking to blame people or to blame circumstances. And I think that’s probably one of the great, big takeaways here.”

In Porter, you can hear echoes of his father’s tough love on the football field.

“We can all sit back, moan, groan and complain a little bit about the inconvenience and even the significant damage that has occurred to property and so forth, but my focus is really 100 percent looking forward,” he said. “What’s happened has happened.”

As reports of storm damage and rebuilding reverberate across the country, many in Minnesota are learning about the salt-of-the-earth spirit of the Keys.

“Tough, and really committed,” Porter said. “I know I’m, unfortunately, going to lose some staff members simply because of the circumstances and probably going to have some students that are going to be unable to return, but I also know the vast majority are really sitting out on the perimeter right now and are anxious — very anxious — to get back to the Keys and get to work.”

He knows when he returns it will be different, but that in this there is a teachable moment — a chance to educate kids in a different way, with some of the gusto he learned on the football field.

“If the other team makes a good play, you can’t sit there and mope and think about it and think, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in a really bad situation,” Porter said. “You look ahead, you figure out how we’re going to get better, how we’re going to make the next move, and that’s what we’re doing here in Monroe County.”

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