Hillpoint passes first year with flying colors

Published 9:45 pm Thursday, July 23, 2009

It is the last week of July, and the hallways of Hillpoint Elementary School are empty and silent.

It is a stark contrast to the whirlwind of excitement and celebration there when the doors of Hillpoint opened to welcome students for the first time last September.

In the school’s first year of operation, Hillpoint has managed to boast a Suffolk Star Teacher of the Quarter, was named the PTA Unit of the Year and, according to preliminary reports, has been fully accredited in Standards of Learning testing.

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“To say that I am excited would be an understatement,” said Ron Leigh, principal of Hillpoint Elementary School. “We had a great year, and we’re just proud and excited for our students.”

Pride and excitement seem to be mainstays in Hillpoint since its construction.

The 98,964 square foot building has become one of Suffolk’s crown jewel schools, complete with state-of-the-art equipment, a separate science lab and its own television station, HTV.

“The kids are excited to be here,” Leigh said. “It’s like walking into a toy store. We even have administrators from other cities come in to see the school. They say, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but can I take a look at the school?’ It’s a great source of pride for us. We love to show Hillpoint off.”

Leigh acknowledged that having the latest technologies at students’ and teachers’ fingertips is a plus for Hillpoint, but he said technology is not the school’s focus.

“Obviously, it’s an advantage,” he said, “but it’s not going to give you test scores. It’s going to help, but it’s not the answer.”

Leigh said that much of the school’s success can be directly attributed to the hard work and dedication of the school’s teaching staff.

“They really pulled together,” he said. “There were a lot of times they could have complained about things, but they didn’t. Their willingness to pull together was amazing.”

Leigh said he had teachers who would give up their lunch periods to work with struggling students one-on-one. He also said that when some textbooks did not arrive in time, teachers visited other schools to copy needed text and lessons.

Leigh also credited the school’s parents for their support and trust in the first year.

“Your parents will be your best public relations tool, better than anything you could ever do,” Leigh said. “In the ball field, at the grocery store, you best believe, that’s where your reputation is won or lost. We were blessed to have great parent support and confidence in what we were doing.”

William Whitley, vice-chairman of the Suffolk Public School Board and the representative from Hillpoint’s Chuckatuck borough, said Leigh’s leadership during the school’s first year helped set the pace.

“It seems like things have gone pretty well,” said Whitley. “I think the school has an excellent reputation, and I think the leadership there seems to be in good hands.”

Gearing up for next year, Leigh said the school will be focused on aiding students who did not pass the SOL test.

“If you get the kids who weren’t successful to be successful, you don’t have a problem,” Leigh said. “We’re going to see an improvement in the next year.”

Given the recent decision by the Suffolk School Board to build an elementary school to consolidate Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools, Leigh had some simple advice for the principal taking the helm of the new school.

“Enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And, after your first year, you’re not new anymore, so, enjoy it.”