Meet your Local Leader: Babur Habib, Co-Founder, Portfolio School

Principal of Lower Manhattan

October 22, 2021

Please tell us a little about yourself, your background and what led you into educational leadership.

I am an education technology entrepreneur, with a Ph.D. in quantum computing, who is passionate about thoughtful innovation in schools that can enable quality education all across the world. 

How long have you been with Portfolio School? Where were you before this?

I co-founded Portfolio School in 2016 with a good friend of mine, Doug. Before Portfolio, I co-founded an ed-tech company out of silicon valley in 2009, which was acquired by Intel. I spent 18 months as the head of Product and Engineering at Intel Education before leaving and co-founding Portfolio. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe in hiring the best people in the field. Everyone in the team should be able to deeply understand the vision of the organization and be able to articulate their role in it. We then give them space and time, to accomplish what they’ve set out to do and ensure they have the support of the full team.

What is your school’s philosophy? Teaching style? How do you encourage that kind of culture?

21st century is about creativity and innovation. The industrial age education gave us factory workers, the information age gave us office workers, and now the innovation age will require design thinkers, fearless creators, adaptive experts. At Portfolio, students learn to problem-solve, iterate, take risks, see failure as an opportunity and make the most out of unexpected outcomes. We are a school where students will inquire, innovate, influence and inspire others.

What advice would you give to a new teacher on his or her first year?

Portfolio looks and feels different. Be ready to come in and learn and adapt. It's a fantastic place if you want to see your ideas about education be considered at an equal footing with the rest of the team. 

What steps would you take if you are dealing with a student discipline incident?

Our student and parent handbook outlines our discipline policy. If a student’s behavior is not in line with our policy, then we will involve the parents immediately and with their collaboration try to address the issue as effectively and quickly as we can. 

How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

We have a rigorous (but fun) process of hiring for the team. It involves an initial interview, a visit to the school where the candidate works with the kids and a sit down with the whole team at the end of the school visit. 

What are some of your family favorite events that you host? Do you host any that are open to the public?

We host a number of events throughout the year. Some of them are open to the public as well. It includes maker events, talks by authors, and exhibition nights for our end of unit projects. 

Please tell us what makes your school unique from others in the area?

We have a research-based approach to project-based learning where kids apply their knowledge in creative ways to solve problems or come up with new things. Our space looks and feels different and when you step in the school, all you see and feel are the students and their work. 

Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others?

1. Thinking fast and slow. By Daniel Kahneman

2. Valley of genius: the uncensored history of silicon valley. By Adam Fisher

3. Better together. How to leverage school networks for smarter personalized and project-based learning. By Tom Vander Ark. 

4. The everything store. Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon. By Brad Stone. 


We want to get to know you a little better. Let’s play a round of quick questions. Tell us the first thing that comes to your mind:

Where are you originally from? The Big Bang

Do you have kids? How old are they? One daughter, who is 4

Your favorite movie? Star Wars

Your hidden talent? I’m working on ‘using the force’

What is your dream vacation? A trip to Mars would be cool!

What’s a typical Saturday night like for you? Going out with my family for ice cream. My daughter and I are on our scooters and my wife walking way way way behind us. 

How do you spend your summer breaks? Traveling, redesigning the school, playing tennis and swimming

What are your “trapped on a desert island” books or movies? If I can watch movies, then it means, there is electricity there. And if so, there must be some connectivity, like cell service and if so, all I need is my Kindle and iTunes.

What is your favorite dessert? Ice cream

What accomplishment fills you with pride? Starting the school 

Do you have a morning routine that gets you ready for school? Breakfast, bath, and then walking with my daughter to school

What inspires you? The world and the amazing people in it

What is the best thing about being a principal? Being surrounded by an amazing team

An advice you would like your students to remember, always? Don’t take too much advice

A gift from your student/s that you value the most? A painting

Is there a quote or saying that you live your life by? No

What song do you know all the lyrics to? I don't 

Your favorite Spirit Day in school is… Everyday

Thank you!

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