March 05, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The literacy projection for the children of Union and Baker counties just got brighter.

The Oregon Department of Education has awarded a grant of $180,000 to the public schools of the two counties for reading. The grant is to be used to provide training to the teachers of students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

We are very excited, said Doug Potter, staff development and grant administrator for the La Grande School District.

The application for the $180,000 grant was prepared by Potter, Pasco Arritola, who is curriculum director for the Union-Baker Education Service District, and Don Ulrey, the La Grande School Districts curriculum director.

Through the grant, 312 teachers in Union and Baker counties will receive training on strategies for improving the reading skills of children. The training will be provided over the next 16 months.

Potter said the grant is particularly welcome during a time in which school districts in Union and Baker counties are experiencing declining enrollment. The school districts are receiving less money from the state as a result.

It is hard to do something special when you are losing students, Potter said.

La Grande School District Superintendent Jerry Sessions echoes this sentiment.

When dollars become tight it is nice to have additional dollars for staff development, Sessions said.

Potter believes that the training will have a measurable effect on state assessment test scores for reading.

The stated goal of the grants writers is to boost by 2 percent the rate of improvement on student assessment test scores for reading. The improvement rate will be compared to the average over the past two years for each school district.

Another objective is to decrease the performance gap between special education students and other students.

The grants programs begin April 5-6 with a Spring Reading Seminar. This will be followed by a week-long Summer Reading Seminar in August. Many other training sessions will be offered through June.

The grant will also provide teachers with an opportunity to conduct their own research on reading education. Teachers will be required to document the effect of their teaching strategies and share their results with other educators.

A portion of the training to be provided for teachers will be modeled after a program used by the Kennewick School District in Washington. Kennewicks reading program is receiving national recognition. The district published a book, The 90 Percent Reading Goal, in 1998. The book, in its second printing, explains how to get 90 percent of third graders to read at or above grade level.

Arritola, Potter and Ulrey have worked closely with Kennewick School District officials in developing their plan for the Union-Baker county school district consortium.