January 24, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

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Elgin and Wallowa high schools have received report cards from the state which put them in noteworthy company.

The schools both received overall ratings of exceptional on the third-annual state Department of Education school report cards. Only 50 schools in the state received this ranking. A total of 1,112 schools were rated.

High ratings reflect such things as excellent state assessment test scores from last spring, good attendance and low dropout rates.

Wallowa High School also received an exceptional overall rating last year.

Im thrilled. It is a real positive report, Im tickled for the school and I am very happy for our teachers, said John Nesemann, principal at Wallowas high school and elementary school.

Wallowas elementary school also did well, receiving a strong overall rating.

Nesemann noted that the report card indicates that the school district has been able to hold a good program together in spite of an enrollment drop of 26 percent since 1998.

Nesemann stressed, however, that report cards reflect just a limited view of schools.

It is just a snapshot. ... Our staff cares about our students as people. This is not reflected in the report card, Nesemann said. There are a lot of things which make a school good which are not shown on the report.

Elgin High Schools exceptional rating reflects noteworthy improvement. Just two years ago, the school had a low overall rating. Elgin had a strong overall rating a year ago.

Elgin School District Superintendent Kerma Berry said a school can quickly drop several steps because of the nature of the report card program.

You can fall quickly, but we are going to enjoy it while we are up here, Berry said.

She said that one should not overrate the significance of the rating. This is because Elgin High Schools overall rating is based primarily on how its sophomores did on state assessment tests.

Elgins Stella Mayfield Elementary School also fared well, earning a strong overall rating.

La Grande School District

In La Grande, Central Elementary, Willow Elementary and the La Grande Middle School earned strong overall ratings.

I cant say enough about what our staff has done in building an exceptional program, said Doug Hislop, middle school principal.

Hislop also attributes a portion of the schools strong performance to a new schedule put in place in 1999-2000. It features classes that are about 30 minutes longer than before. The schedule change was made under the direction of Doug Potter, now the principal of La Grande High School. Potter served as principal of the middle school from 1995 to 2000.

The state report card gave satisfactory overall ratings to La Grande High School and Island City and Riveria elementary schools. Greenwood Elementary School received a low overall rating.

Jay Rowell, the La Grande School Districts personnel and curriculum director, said that the low rating may reflect such things as the fact that Greenwood has a higher number of special-needs students who take the state assessment test.

Greenwood finished just .9 of a point from the satisfactory level, said first-year principal Mike Gregory. He said a school improvement program was put in place earlier and should yield results.

Im very confident that a year from now well be celebrating this improvement, Gregory said.

Union School District

Unions elementary school and high school both earned strong overall ratings.

I am pleased with the results, said Union Superintendent Mike Wood.

Woods enthusiasm though is tempered by the realization that the report card does not provide an overall look at what schools do.

The report card provides a limited view of what our schools are all about, he said.

Imbler School District

Imblers elementary school received a strong rating and its high school had a satisfactory rating.

Im very pleased. Our teachers need to be acknowledged, said Imbler Superintendent Larry Glaze.

Each report card is accompanied by additional information about the school district. Information in Imblers report card noted that its students who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test last year had an average math score of 543. This topped the state average of 526 and the national average of 511.

North Powder

and Cove districts

In the remaining Union County school districts, North Powder received an overall rating of satisfactory and Cove earned a strong overall rating. North Powder and Cove received ratings for their entire district, not individual schools.

Wallowa County

Wallowa was not the only school district in Wallowa County to fare well. The Joseph School Districts high school and middle school received strong overall ratings. The elementary schools in the Joseph School District did not receive ratings.

In the Enterprise School District, the high school and elementary school both earned strong ratings.

We should do well. Small schools in the state should do well because small classes with good teachers lead to success, said Enterprise Superintendent Bill Eggers.

Eggers said he does not like the concept of state report cards because they promote competitive comparisons.

We are not trying to be better than the school down the road. We are trying to do what is best for kids. Report cards make us think of one-upmanship, Eggers said.

On the web:

School reports are available at: