UNION COUNTY — Most schools in Union County scored high grades for students walking away with diplomas, according to the Oregon Department of Education’s latest school report cards. The department’s most recent At-A-Glance reports also highlight the pitfalls small districts face.
The reports provide a quick overview for evaluating and measuring a school’s and a school district’s impact on its students, according to the Oregon Department of Education website. The department’s profiles look at the number of students enrolled and their demographics, including race and economic status. The profiles also report the number of faculty and teachers at schools, the demographics of the staff and contain graduation and completion rates.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2019-2020 report does not include statewide assessments data, class size data, ninth grade on-track and attendance data.
For the 2018/2019 school year, Imbler and North Powder school districts each have a 95% graduation rate, while Elgin is furthest behind in the county with a 75% completion rate. La Grande’s rate is 80%, the same as the state average.
The smaller the district, the more only a few students can affect outcomes.
“We had two students fall off the grid after we were shut down for COVID, and we could never get them reengaged,” Elgin Superintendent Dianne Greif said. “Because of the small size of our graduating class, those two students knocked our grad rate down significantly.”
Greif said the district has enhanced its student contact regarding graduating and requirements with more personnel to address where students are are in the process of meeting graduation requirements.
“It is our hope to not be shut down for COVID reasons again this year,” she continued, “but if that happens, we will hope to keep all seniors engaged and working toward graduation.”
La Grande school district, the largest district in Union County, has 2,348 students, with 81% white, 8% Hispanic/Latino, 6% multiracial and 2% or less American Indian, Asian, Black or native Hawaiian.
“I would say that our diversity of race in our enrollment is somewhat reflective of the racial representation of our community,” La Grande Superintendent George Mendoza said. “We are a microcosm of the community in general, and the data in general indicates that we have three out of six racial categories statistically the same.”
Other schools scored similarly, with the exception of RiverBend High School, an Oregon Department of Education Youth Correctional Education Program facility. The school provides education for high school students in the criminal justice system. The Oregon Department of Education reported 12 students were enrolled for the 2019-2020 academic year. Of these students, 17% were Black, 42% were Hispanic/Latino, and 42% were white.
In Cove, which has 403 students, the district has an 89% majority of white students and 5% Hispanic/Latino students, 1% Asian and less than 1% Black.
“Due to a number of adoptions and kids moving to the district due to closures in their previous communities, our enrollment reflects a higher racial diversity this year than is reflected in community data as a whole,” Cove Superintendent Earl Pettit said. “The racial diversity of our student body continues to broaden.”
The demographics of the other Union County schools are similar to county-wide data on race, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The La Grande school district has 124 teachers in its five schools and a 91% average retention rate. Other districts in Union County had similar or higher retention rates for the school year, with the exception of Elgin, which had an average of 80% of teachers return.
“About half are past the 15-year mark and half are under,” Greif said of Elgin’s staff. “This would be a reflection on current hiring within the last 10 years, and retirement, also within the last 10 years. As staff retire they are typically replaced by new staff, those with less years experience.”
North Powder Superintendent Lance Dixon said the family atmosphere of the district is what keeps teachers from leaving.
“We are a family,” Dixon said. “I have always encouraged staff to put their family first and we all understand that we have to take care of ourselves in order to help others. I think that philosophy goes a long way in encouraging people to commit to the district long term.”
North Powder and Cove school districts had the least amount of diversity in their teaching staff. The districts have 100% white teachers, while the other districts in Union County have a mix of white, Asian, Hispanic and Black teachers, though the majority of the teachers in those districts are white.
Dixon said the trend of hiring for the district is in line with the community and application pool the district receives. Mendoza said La Grande’s hiring also is in line with the community, but the district is working toward maintaining a well-cultured education through partnering with Eastern Oregon University’s “Grow Your Own” program.
“These programs are built around the premise of culturally responsive instruction and are aligned to having future teachers from our region who wish to stay and work in our region,” Mendoza said. “We do look at equity and diversity in our school system in general and take action to be equity driven and culturally responsive to student and staff needs.”
Editor's Note: The article incorrectly stated the year for graduation rates and has been corrected to reflect the accurate time frame. The graduation rates are for the 2018-2019 school year.