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New Centennial High principal driven to success

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Mairi Scott-Aguirre, principal of Centennial High School, started her career as a science teacher. Mairi Scott-Aguirre does some of her best problem solving while in the car.

That’s a good thing, because the new principal of Centennial High School lives in Forest Grove — and on a bad traffic day, her commute can approach nearly two hours.

“I get a lot of thinking done in the car,” the bi-lingual educator said.

Scott-Aguirre was hired last summer as interim principal and was recently named the permanent principal at Centennial High at 3505 S.E. 182nd Ave.

“I feel like a lot of my work will be continuing the programs here. This is a successful school,” she noted.

Indeed, Centennial is successful by many measures. The high school’s on-time graduation rate of 82.3 percent is 10 percentage points higher than the state average. But Scott-Aguirre thinks it could be even better.

“There are a couple schools with a 98 percent graduation rate, so they’re proving it can be done.”

Improving attendance, which generally boosts graduation rates too, has been a priority at Centennial, and she plans to continue that. Scott-Aguirre is working on improving options for students to redo classes they have failed and to get credit for those, a process known in education circles as credit recovery.

In the 2016-17 school year, Centennial will also have a program called College Possible, which coaches and supports low-income students on finishing high school and getting into college.

Scott-Aguirre, a former science teacher also would like to boost the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education at Centennial High School. One of the first things on Scott-Aguirre’s agenda is to add computer coding classes.

Born in Los Angeles, Scott-Aguirre grew up in West Virginia and Syracuse, N.Y., where she graduated from high school. She attended uber-selective Hamilton College in nearby Clinton, N.Y., majoring in chemistry. She came by her interest in science naturally, as her father was a professor of plant physiology at University of Southern California and other colleges.

Scott-Aguirre began her education career in Stockton, Calif., teaching English language learners and science. She took a 13-year break from teaching, working at a family nursery business in Hillsboro, polishing her Spanish, human resources and management skills. She then went back to education, working as a coach in a program for kindergartners called First Step to Success.

She worked in that program in Hillsboro for three years, ending in June 2007. She earned her school administrative credentials at Portland State University and then spent five years as the dean of students at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

From there she was an assistant principal at Reynolds High School from 2012 to 2015 before she was named interim principal at Centennial.

When Scott-Aguirre — who is married and has two girls, both students at Forest Grove High School — is not managing the high school, she loves to get outdoors to hike and cross-country ski with family and friends. She said she hopes to do some still-water kayaking this summer and also has a passion for cooking.

Scott-Aguirre is not looking to make a lot of changes at Centennial, but wants to build on the good work already being done. Centennial, she said, “has a really good culture. The staff is really student-centered. They are kind to each other, they are kind to me and to the students. The students are really well-behaved.”

For troubles that do pop up, she’ll have some time during her car commute to work them out.

“I solve a lot of problems on the road,” she said.