LA GRANDE'S LOSS IS HOOD RIVER'S GAIN

March 19, 2001 11:00 pm

La Grande School Superintendent Jerry Sessions is leaving town. It was only a matter of time before one of Oregons up-and-coming school administrators decided to leave. You say what?

Sessions was looking for a pathway to gain experience before he eventually returns to Southern Oregon, where he originated. La Grande offered him the opportunity to try some of his ideas on how to run a school system, but the district is just too small to keep anyone of Sessions quality for very long. You say what?

Sessions had the ethics and standards you dont see every day, even in rural Oregon. He didnt stand for wiggling around issues, so that you could help someone double dip. He saw through those who wanted to make the system give them an advantage. And he knew when to listen and when to speak. He is a first- class administrator and one that wont be replaced easily.

So why would he go to the Hood River School District? Because it offers a larger platform to try out his ideas. Except for the small high school at Cascade Locks, Hood River is a countywide system. It has 1,000 more students than the La Grande School District. Even though the town of Hood River is about half the size of La Grande, the county is growing. It has a progressive school board and a community that believes in quality education. The area is growing partly because the population is more diverse. There is a growing Hispanic population, which will give Sessions a chance to work with another culture.

Hood River once had two smaller school districts, but eventually the people saw the need to improve things, so they combined their districts into one larger system when they built a great facility up on the heights outside the community.

In Hood River, Sessions will not have to deal with a declining student population. The La Grande district would be much larger if Union County did not have five separate school districts. Hood River is still very rural and a great place to rear families and yet provide proximity to regional shopping in either The Dalles or Portland.

Sessions was going to leave eventually, because too many factors were working in that direction. But could we have kept Sessions longer?

Yes, but probably not the way things are today. If Union County was similar to Hood River County and had only one school district, the size of the districts would have been similar. Its a lot more challenging for an administrator to be in a larger district. In Oregon, most administrators would rather be in a 4-A district than a smaller one. You also want to be in a growing district, not one thats declining.

When the school board starts looking for another superintendent, we hope it looks for the cream and not a second-rate administrator who is looking for a place to coast. Sessions, who leaves his post July 1, is giving the district enough time to find a quality replacement, so lets not settle for an interim superintendent. We need to recognize that until we see either a countywide school district or growth in our population, well most likely remain a stepping stone for administrators who are on their way up to bigger and better opportunities.