The La Grande School District will delay its search for a new Island City Elementary principal at least a year.

John Tolan, Island City’s principal since 2002, has decided, after a request from School District Superintendent George Mendoza, to return as principal next fall. Tolan, an educator for almost 39 years, announced last December that he planned to retire June 30.

Tolan said changing his mind after Mendoza’s request was an easy decision.

“I still love it (serving as Island City’s principal). I didn’t decide to get out of it because I didn’t love it,” he said.

Tolan said after he decided to step down as principal late last year, he was considering working in education as a substitute teacher or as a supervisor of student teachers for couple years. That was before Mendoza encouraged him to stay on as principal.

Mendoza said Thursday he is delighted to be able to retain Tolan.

“He is a wonderful educator who has a lot of good years left. He is talented and smart and runs a great program that meets the needs of all students,” Mendoza said. “He is the kind of person we want to keep as long as possible.”

Tolan began his education career in 1980, teaching fifth grade a Island City his first 20 years at Island City Elementary. He next taught physical education at Central and Willow elementary schools for 1-1/2 years before being named Island City Elementary’s principal.

Tolan said Island City Elementary has been a perfect place for him because of the community and the school’s staff and students.

“It is a good fit for me,” Tolan said, add that working with Island City’s young staff “energizes me.”

Tolan has won a number of noteworthy honors over the course of his career, including the Union County Chamber of Commerce’s 1997 Union County Educator of the Year award, Island City’s 2008 Citizen of the Year award and the 2014 Apple Eyecare Fred Award for Community Service.

The past three years have been particularly gratifying for Tolan as he has helped oversee major changes at Island City Elementary. Classrooms were added and other major upgrades completed with funds from a $31.5 million bond school district voters approved in 2014. In addition, a new parking lot and sidewalk were installed by community volunteers who stepped forward to assist the grade school with materials and labor.

Tolan said he is very excited about a new conscious discipline program at Island City Elementary. The program provides teachers with the tools they need to recognize students who are dealing with traumatic circumstances like parents who are in prison or have substance abuse problems.

“It puts strategies in place to recognize these problems,” Tolan said.

Conscious discipline also shows teachers how to best connect with these students so that the challenges they face do not provide learning roadblocks. An important part of this involves creating caring and compassion-filled classroom settings, he said.

Tolan, whose retirement plan was approved in December by the school board, will have to be officially rehired by the school district to serve as principal in 2019-20. The board will vote on rehiring Tolan at its Feb. 27 meeting.

See complete story in Friday's Observer