Here in Wallowa County, we take well-deserved pride in our schools. Wallowa provides superb vocational education and advocacy for students, with local professionals and artisans contributing training and inspiration along with a dedicated staff, and a 100 percent graduation rate. Enterprise received a silver medal for excellence in a recent U.S. News and World Report survey, has a dedicated staff with long tenure and boasts scores well above Oregon’s average in reading and math. Joseph Charter School has one of the few high school aviation programs in the nation, and a very robust ag program. Students’ scores in reading and math are well above the state average.
These schools and their students deserve to have reliable, safe and fully functional physical plants. To have less puts students, educators and the community at risk. No one wants to live in a house with a leaky roof and buckets on the floor to catch the drips, or a furnace that may malfunction and quit at any time. In the 21st century, no one should go to school under these circumstances, either. But in our schools, we are coming perilously close to this situation.
Oregon’s Technical Assistance Programs (TAP) assessments that both Enterprise and Wallowa are undergoing are revealing urgent needs for repairs. From roof and structural needs to creating spaces vital for our students to excel in learning, these buildings need upgrades. They include repair of a major beam in the Enterprise’s small gym, and a very temporary patching job on a roof that should be replaced. Wallowa, where the school board has noted that the school is the heart of the community, is likely to be facing major repairs as well.
The Wallowa and Enterprise school districts both are in the process of assessing the needs of their schools. As the school boards provide plans and options to repair, renew and modernize their schools — and eventually place bonds for the work on the ballot — the communities should support them. Whether you have children in the school or not, the overall health and repair of the school reflects the overall health and future prosperity of the community.
If our children are our future, the schools are the vehicle that takes them — and us — there. An investment in schools is an investment in the future of Wallowa County. Why? Because we need great schools for our children. And because like it or not, Wallowa County is growing and diversifying. We have been discovered by retirees, empty-nesters and importantly, young families looking for a safe, healthy place to raise their children. One of the principal attractants for these well-off newcomers, many of whom telecommute or use the Internet as a means of employment, is what kind of school system awaits their families. Not just whether the buildings are in good repair, but are the chemistry and biology labs up to date? Does the school have the facilities to offer STEM Advanced Placement (AP) classes here, in house? Can the school engage the latest technologies and teaching techniques? Do we retain and attract the best teachers?
As we begin to close in on TAP assessment results and school needs, please consider that schools are an essential lane in the road to community prosperity. They are an investment worth making for our future and for our children. And they are the heart of our county and communities.