By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
For the first time in at least 20 years, the La Grande School Board might hire from within to fill the superintendents position.
Jay Rowell, 37, the school districts director of curriculum and personnel, emerged from Wednesdays board meeting as a serious candidate for the position being vacated June 28 by Dan Arriola.
Rowell told the board that he would like to serve as superintendent. After an extensive discussion many board members appeared interested in promoting Rowell.
Arriola has been named superintendent of the Wilder School District in Wilder, Idaho, near Boise. Arriola is leaving after one year with the La Grande district.
Rowell is completing his first year as the school districts personnel and curriculum director. He previously served as an elementary principal in the La Grande district for four years.
Board chairman Ron Arritola said Rowell would bring a good working knowledge of the superintendents position. He noted that when someone from outside is brought in, there always is a lot to absorb.
There is a learning curve for anyone new. You have to learn how the district functions in and out, and the idiosyncrasies. We would not have this with Jay, Arritola said.
Arritola said Rowell would bring some stability to the district. The chairman said he is concerned that the next superintendent will be the third one in three years. Jerry Sessions resigned a year ago to become superintendent of the Hood River County School District.
We need someone who will come in and stay, Arritola said.
Arritola noted that Rowell has been like an assistant superintendent the past year and has helped Arriola learn about the district.
Board member Jim Mollerstrom noted that many teachers and staff members like Rowell.
He has a lot of support from the troops. That is another positive that we need to consider, he said.
Mollerstrom and several other board members said they are
concerned about Rowells lack of experience.
We would be throwing him into the lions den. I dont know if it would be fair to him, Mollerstrom said.
Board member Mary Ann Miesner also expressed concern.
You will be an excellent superintendent some day, Miesner said But it is a huge step. It is a position totally different than any other in the school district.
Arriola, however, believes that Rowell is ready for the job now.
I suggest very strongly that you hire him, Arriola said. You would not miss a beat if you allow Jay to step in.
I have all the confidence in the world in Jay, he added. You would be where I would like to be in a year if I stayed (if Rowell is hired).
Board member Steve Joseph said he supports Rowell and noted that appointing him would help the districts continuity.
Joseph was impressed that Rowell is not afraid to admit when he does not know something.
He would not sit there and lead us blindly into oblivion, Joseph said.
Rowell does not have his superintendents certification but is less than a year from earning it. He could serve as superintendent if granted a conditional assignment permit from the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
Rowell came to La Grande in 1997 from the Lebanon School District, where he was a grade school teacher.
The school board will discuss the superintendents position when it meets on April 24. The board may decide at that meeting to hire Rowell or begin a search.