As the 100th day of school arrived in the Hillsboro School District, Superintendent Mike Scott sat down in a kindergarten classroom — the day and place when everything 100 is celebrated.
As Scott started talking with one student, he slowly became involved in a coloring assignment. He helped one boy color his 100 stars, which would soon be used as a crown.
As he colored, he observed a neighboring classmate, who was meticulously outlining her stars and coloring each one in neatly.
The superintendent said he decided to help her, but he was soon stopped in his tracks as the girl grabbed back her piece of paper and told him, "Keep your hands off my stuff."
Scott shared this story at a Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) Breakfast Forum as an analogy of how schools once operated. He said those in school administration felt they could do it all. But in today's world of growing demands and limited resources, he said those in education recognize the need and importance of partnerships.
Scott and Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting were the featured presenters at a recent WEA forum. The two superintendents represent more than 60,000 students combined — both school districts are members of WEA.
The two shared their insight into the state of education in Oregon today, along with Moderator Sue Hildick of Hildick Strategies, who is also the founder of the Chalkboard Project.
The discussion made it clear that schools today are not the same as what most business leaders experienced when they were growing up. Grotting and Scott both have districts where minorities make up the majority of the population, with more than 90 languages spoken in homes across the districts. There are more behavioral and mental health challenges. Students also feel the consequences of a 10 percent poverty rate in Washington County, along with the complexity of the housing and homelessness issues. Scott said, "Students are caught between hope and hurt."
Despite the challenges, schools in Washington County are leading the state in graduation rates. The graduation rate has been a sore point for the state, as Oregon has been ranking near the bottom in comparison to other states in the nation. What is not widely known is that Oregon requires more to graduate than 44 other states, so it is not an "apples-to-apples comparison."
The bar is actually set higher here. Scott said if you compare schools of similar demographics nationwide, our schools are actually doing quite well. With students of color and those in low-income households, educators here are focused on closing the achievement gap.
When it comes to partnerships, school administrators like Grotting and Scott appreciate the business community, and its willingness to invite students into the workplace to teach them what it means to be a successful employee.
Grotting talked about the importance for career technical education (CTE) — Beaverton hosts a health careers program and an auto tech program, along with option schools that focus on specific areas of education.
He said students in a CTE program are more likely to graduate than their peers. Grotting said even though the options have increased, there is still work that needs to be done, and he is excited about the partnerships being made, including those around CTE.
Beaverton has invested more in graduation mentors by focusing on ninth grade to make sure students are making the grade and staying on track.
He also said his district is focused on absenteeism and staying engaged with students by showing the student the importance/relevance of education in his or hers future.
If the superintendents could ask for anything, they said it would be for adequate and stable funding, plus a higher adult ratio to students in the schools.
WEA values a strong education system and has endorsed every school bond and levy request it has received. Its executive director even served as the chair of the advisory committee for the $680 million Beaverton School District Bond Measure. The organization recognizes the need for a strong, positive relationship between the business community and schools. It's an investment that will serve us well into the future, as we help meet the needs of a skilled and educated workforce.
Mike Morey is the president of the Westside Economic Alliance Board of Directors. He works at The Standard and can be reached at: westsidealliance.org