March 21, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

One of La Grandes private elementary schools will soon be spreading its wings.

La Grande Christian School, which is owned and operated by the First Baptist Church of La Grande, is being released by its church.

The churchs board of deacons has given

La Grande Christian School until June 1, 2003, to find a new home. The school, which serves students in grades 1-6, can move out anytime between now and the deadline. The First Baptist Churchs Heidi Ho preschool and kindergarten program will be retained by the church, according to Marcus Carpenter, chairperson of the deacon board.

Carpenter believes that La Grande Christian Schools release will boost its chances for success because the school will be independent of the First Baptist Church.

The board of deacons strongly believes that the best way for our grade school to flourish or succeed long-term is by establishing an independent, community-wide, parent-driven, Christ-centered Christian school. This dream would best be accomplished outside the administrative structure and space limitations of the First Baptist Church, according to a statement prepared by the church with the help of Carpenter.

Carpenter believes that independence will result in an expanded community base.

We feel like this could build more community support for the school, Carpenter said. It also enables other churches to get involved instead of just the First Baptist Church. ... We would like the rest of the community to get behind the school.

La Grande Christian School has always been open to children of all denominations. However, its board members and administrator must belong to the First Baptist Church. This requirement will not apply once the school becomes independent.

Kim Kennicott, interim administrator of

La Grande Christian School, believes the release will help the school.

We actually see this as a positive thing, said Kennicott, who is also the Heidi Ho preschool and kindergarten administrator.

Kennicott said that the release might allow the La Grande Christian School to move into a facility that is more appropriate for a school. Kennicott would like the building to have a playground and a gym. La Grande Christian School presently does not have either, although First Baptist Church has a carpeted fellowship hall where games are played.

She noted that some people with La Grande Christian want it to add middle school and high school grades. It would be easier to do this at a site with a gym.

Kennicott stressed that the school will continue to be Christian-based once it becomes independent. This means the school will have a Christian curriculum similar to what it has now.

We are still very committed to being a Christian school. Kennicott said.

Heidi Ho was started 28 years ago by Doris Eakin, who was the programs director for 25 years.

La Grande Christian School evolved out of Heidi Ho.

Today Heidi Hos preschool for

3 and 4 year olds has 92 students; its kindergarten has 38 children. La Grande Christian School has 44 students.

Carpenter said the members of the board of deacons have a strong appreciation of what the La Grande Christian School means to the community.

We have no intention of destroying the grade school. We want it to realize its tremendous growth potential, Carpenter said. We want to let someone with more gifts and resources to take it over.

Carpenter said that the church remains very committed to operating the Heidi Ho preschool and kindergarten.

It (operating Heidi Ho) is something we do well. To go further than this stretches our resources too thin, Carpenter said. We cant do everything;

we have to focus on what we do best.