Rhonda Porter – Akron Public Schools

Education inspires musician-turned-general counsel
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Ross Fields

Whether it was as an educator herself at the American International School in Vienna, Austria, or as an orchestral trumpet player touring throughout Europe, she found herself always in a role as a musician and an educator.

Rhonda Porter didn't plan on becoming an attorney right out of college. She didn't plan on returning to the states after performing and teaching abroad for nearly six years. It was during that time that she witnessed firsthand how education, particularly music education, can be a gift that gives for a lifetime.

Rhonda Porter – Akron Public Schools

“I received a very sad call one day and learned that one of my students was flying back to the states immediately,” Porter recounts. “Her father, a diplomat, had been in a plane crash and she had to fly back to the states to attend the memorial. It was only a couple of weeks before our last performance of the year. She asked to participate in the performance and made it back in time. It was a safe and nurturing place for her. Expressing her emotions through music had become very important. These kind of ‘aha’ moments happened often during my years of teaching at the International School.”

Porter also goes on to explain that she knew that her future included being an advocate for children in the educational environment. Not knowing exactly where she would land career-wise, Porter got on a plane back to Ohio to go to law school in order to make a difference somehow. Needless to say, an orchestral musician with a master's degree in music education was not the norm in law school.

After her first year of law school, Porter took a side journey to Los Angeles, California, and interned at an entertainment law firm specializing in copyright issues. "In the end, it helped me realize I'm a Midwest kid at heart,” she says. “I definitely still use what I learned during that time in my work now, but I needed to get back to my roots and back to education."

When asked what her most important work is, Porter explains, "As in-house counsel for the Akron Board of Education it is my responsibility to respond to the innumerable variety of school law issues that boards of education are faced with daily, and I take that responsibility very seriously." Supporting the Akron Board's mission is a priority for Porter.

"Students' rights and educators' rights are also among my most serious quests in life as in-house counsel for the Akron Board,” she adds. “I truly believe we have some amazing educators in the Akron Public Schools; I hope my work has somehow made it better for them."

It has been quite a journey from musician/educator to attorney. Perhaps Porter is the ultimate trumpeter for education. When asked if her music training has helped her in her work Porter replies, “Absolutely. I think I am more aware somehow that the whole is bigger than the one. In an orchestra, no one player is more important than the next. Everyone is essential. It’s important not to forget that. It still takes a village.”

Who is in Porter’s village?  “I am so fortunate to be working with such talented administrators and educators who share a similar passion for education,” she explains. “From our superintendent, David James; our assistant superintendent, Dr. Ellen McWilliams-Woods; and our special education director, Karen Liddell-Anderson, to those who handle the business side of the district like our human resources director, Kathy McVey; our business affairs director, Debra Foulk and of course our treasurer, Ryan Pendleton. They and their respective staff members are incredibly forward thinking and indeed just as passionate as I am about the rights of all children to have a quality education. I am truly fortunate to be part of their ‘orchestra.’” 

“Do I miss playing trumpet? Sure I do,” she adds. “I was fortunate to play in some of the most beautiful and famous concert halls not only throughout Vienna and Austria, but Prague, the United Kingdom, Germany and most recently Taiwan. When I hear certain pieces of music or certain concertos, I am back in Vienna playing trumpet again! But I wouldn’t change my life or the choices I’ve made for anything. I have found what I’m here to do at this part of my life.”

Surrounded by a supportive and mission-driven team, Porter works day after day to promote harmony at Akron Public Schools.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Harpst Ross