SEASON OF GROWTH
By Dave Stave
Observer Staff Writer
A year ago this month, Grande Ronde Academy was on shaky ground. The Christian grade school was moving from one church in La Grande to another. Teachers had not signed up to return in the fall, and it was not known how many students would be enrolled either.
The school, which provides Christian-focused classes for elementary-age children and in September will expand to the seventh grade, is on much firmer ground this May, said John Haugen.
The academy, which was housed this past year at First Christian Church, had 21 students when the school year ended this week. Early figures show that 27 or 28 students will be enrolling in the fall, said Haugen, chairman of the academy's board.
Last year, teachers did not indicate they were returning until mid-summer.
This month, the three teachers Â— Cheryl Faulk, Mary Lanmon and Barb Shanklin Â— have said they will be back in the fall.
"We'll probably be gaining a few more students in August," said Haugen. "A number of them are considering our school and may enroll. We may go over 30 students in September."
The board chairman said the academy also has a good cash carryover as it enters the summer months.
"We're finishing the year in the black with some savings intact," he said.
Students at Grande Ronde Academy are charged $260 a month, regardless of their year in school. The academy gives a 15 percent break for each additional brother or sister enrolled, up to a maximum charge of $750 per family.
Along with the tuition, contributions have come to the academy from several sources.
"We've had generous support from parents and other donors in the community," Haugen said, "and we've also had some students' relatives who live out of town who have sent in some money."
First Christian, 901 Penn Ave., will continue to rent space to the academy next year, and is adding a room upstairs, where the older students will have their class.
Grande Ronde Academy was formed in the spring of 2001 when First Baptist Church of La Grande closed the La Grande Christian School, but retained its Heidi-Ho classes for pre-school and kindergarten-age students.
The academy spent its first year at Zion Lutheran Church, but the classroom space in Zion's basement is limited. Accordion doors were used to separate classrooms; children in one class could hear what was going on in the other. Still, the school had 21 students enrolled.
Places to hang things
First Christian has provided individual classrooms for the three classes Â— "with solid walls where teachers can hang things," Haugen said. Classrooms were set up this year for nine students in the first- and second-grades, seven students in the third-grade, and five students in the fourth- through sixth-grades.
The board chairman said if the academy grows much beyond 30 students, it will have to look at moving to an even larger facility.
A site committee, made up of school administrator Peggy Wallace and board vice chairman Doug Turnidge, has been scouting for a larger building, but to no avail.
"We've spent a lot of time looking for space," Haugen said. "But we haven't seen much in the way of a good building, adequate for a school."
At the same time, Grande Ronde Academy is not prepared to begin a capital program to construct a building, Haugen said.
"We'd have to increase the student body, and recruit parents to get involved," he said.
Instead of starting a building campaign, the Grande Ronde board this year will be looking at how well the school is doing in achieving its stated purpose.
The motto of Grande Ronde Academy is: "Your Choice for Christ-centered Academic Excellence."
"We want to make sure we are delivering what we are saying we are, and achieving this goal," Haugen said.
The school uses the A Beka curriculum, provided by Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College. Its Bible curriculum comes from the Association of Christian Schools International.
While teachers regularly provide Bible instruction, twice a month a local pastor is invited to the school to conduct a chapel service.
In addition to Wallace and the three teachers, other members of Grande Ronde Academy's staff includes Heather Winburn, a recess monitor and administrative aide; and Michelle Long, a lunch and recess monitor who helps with music.
Haugen said the academy's first year was especially challenging, but he's happy with the progress made this past year, and the growth that is occurring.
"The first year was a test of our commitment," the board chairman said.
"The first year is behind us, and the blessings are raining on us. We're very conscious that the Lord has blessed us."