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As new school year approaches, Hillsboro superintendent asks teachers, staff to show support

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a video of the kickoff event.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro Superintendent Mike Scott told teachers on Tuesday that they should spend more time this school year forming relationships with their students. 'We're the ones they have been waiting for,' he said.The gymnasium at Liberty High School is no stranger to assemblies and pep rallies, but early Tuesday morning, it wasn’t students packing the bleachers, but teachers, administrators, bus drivers and school board members.

The Hillsboro School District kicked off the 2016-17 school year Aug. 30 with an all-staff assembly aimed at getting teachers and staff excited about the imminent return of students next week.

But amid the celebration — which included musical performances by students, jokes about teachers’ love of school supplies and videos of students expressing their appreciation for educators across the district — Superintendent Mike Scott also pointed out the areas in which the district is still struggling.

“Sadly, we have some students that aren’t as excited as we are about the journey they are on,” Scott told the packed crowd. “They aren’t excited about the beginning of the year.”

Photo gallery

Click here for photos and videos from the kick-off event

The district has struggled over the years to lower its racial achievement gap — the divide in academic performance between white students and minority and poor students.

“Remember, when we talk about the achievement gap, we’re talking about our students, not some elusive concept that is talked about on public radio,” said Scott, who has served as Hillsboro’s superintendent for seven years. “The achievement gap is real. They are our students.”

That gap can be seen in different ways around the school, not just on test scores, Scott said. For some students of color, they don’t feel like they are a part of the school’s community. They think their teachers judge them because of the way they dress or the people they associate with. Some have expressed concerns that their teachers don’t care about them.

“This is a perception of some of our students,” Scott said. “Right or wrong, intended or not, this is the way that some of our students feel.”

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Mike Scott, superintendent of Hillsboro Schools, addresses an auditorium of teachers, school board members, bus drivers and administrators ahead of the first day of classes on Sept. 6.Staff at the district is about 90 percent white. White students make up only about 48 percent of the student body. More than one-third or students in the district are Hispanic or Latino, but only about 7 percent of the district’s staff is Hispanic.

Hillsboro has a higher graduation rate than the state average. More than 80 percent of students graduated on time last year, but Scott said that, too, leaves room for improvement.

Roughly one in five students were unable to graduate from high school last year. If current trends hold, Scott said, more than 160 students won’t graduate from high school this year, Scott said.

The best way to combat these issues, Scott said, is for teachers and educators to learn to understand their students and form real, lasting relationships with them.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Teachers and administrators from every school in the Hillsboro School District attended Thursday's meeting.“Not all non-graduates are lazy or squandering their opportunities,” Scott said. “The truth is that there are other issues at play … There are social, family and educational factors. There are issues of race and poverty. … I am not suggesting that we don’t hold students accountable for their part of the educational equation. I am suggesting that we work to understand the circumstances of each of our students and we recommit to providing the support that they need to be successful.”

Scott said that this year, every employee in the district should make it a priority to make students feel like they belong.

“This issue doesn’t just involve our high schools,” he said. “Often we can see the disconnect beginning at the elementary and middle school levels. We can see the lack of connection. This is an issue that involves us all.”

Those relationships, Scott said, are what will keep kids in school.

“We won’t be judged solely by our test scores or how many kids we send to Ivy League schools,” In the end we will be judged by the relationships that we build, the differences we make, the opportunities we provide and the lives that we change.”

The first day of Hillsboro School District's 2016-17 school year is Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Here's the full video of Tuesday's kick-off event. Superintendent Scott's speech begins at the 32 minute mark:

By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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