May 05, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

What does the future hold for La Grande's elementary schools?

A citizen-school district committee has been named that will go a long way toward answering this question.

Fifty-two people have been named to the committee that has the politically sensitive task of helping set new elementary school boundaries. The committee will also examine the feasibility of doing things such as moving all sixth-graders to the middle school, asking voters to approve a bond levy to build a new school and having clusters of students at grade schools.

Everyone who lives in the La Grande School District and applied was accepted. Principals encouraged people in their districts to serve so that all school areas would be represented.

"We wanted to have a cross section of the community,'' said La Grande School District Personnel and Curriculum Director Jay Rowell.

Rowell, who will become district superintendent at the end of June, is encouraged by the number of people who want to serve.

"It is a very good sign that we have so many people in the community who are interested in the future of the school district and in getting this done right,'' Rowell said.

The majority of the committee are community members who are not with the La Grande School District. The committee also includes district teachers, administrators, staff members and people with Eastern Oregon University and the city of La Grande.

The committee will conduct its first meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the La Grande High School commons. Subcommittees will be organized, and assignments will be made. Each subcommittee will have a facilitator who will help provide information and organize meetings.

Reports and subcommittee recommendations are scheduled to made on Sept. 2, and the school board will receive the recommendations Sept. 10. Rowell emphasized though that the time-line is flexible.

Following are the subcommittees and their facilitators.

• Boundary subcommittee: members will develop boundary plans for three-school and and four-school designs. The school district has five elementary schools now but will have four following the closure of Riveria Elementary in June.

The number could fall to three if voters approve a bond levy to build a new larger elementary school. Under one proposal, if a new school is built, Willow and Island City elementary schools would close after the building opens. The school board has not developed plans for a bond levy.

Gary Howland, the school district's plant operations director, will serve as the subcommittee's facilitator.

• Kindergarten though sixth grade model: this subcommittee will research and study the configurations and the instructional model that elementary schools may use in future years.

The subcommittee will look into such issues as having clusters of students from certain grades at schools. For example, the subcommittee will study whether it would be feasible to have all the district's kindergartners and first graders, second- and third-graders, and fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at separate schools.

Rowell will serve as the subcommittee's facilitator.

• Sixth grade to middle school: this group will look into the possibility of moving the school district's sixth-graders to La Grande Middle School. The middle school would then serve students in sixth through the eighth grades. The middle school has room for sixth-graders because of declining enrollment.

La Grande Middle School Principal Doug Hislop will be the subcommittee's facilitator.

• Bond time-line: this subcommittee will study what type of bond the school district should seek. It will study things such as a bond for a new grade-school and a bond for school building repair and maintenance work.

La Grande Superintendent Dan Arriola will serve as the subcommittee's facilitator until the end of June when he leaves to become superintendent of the Wilder School District in Wilder, Idaho. Rowell will become the subcomittee's facilitator after Arriola leaves.