By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
The proof was in the pork chops when alternative school students told the Baker School Board about the successes they are experiencing in the program this year.
To demonstrate what theyve learned about food preparation, four of the students cooked and served pork chops, corn on the cob, stuffing, rolls and salad for school district directors and administrators during a November board meeting.
The 5J district has contracted the program to the Union-Baker Education Service District this year.
Although they were nervous and faltered at times, the students expressed their appreciation in touching tributes to the program and the staff as part of their presentations.
Daniel Criss said he has experienced the success that eluded him in the traditional high school program thanks to the vocational training offered by the alternative school that includes horsemanship, horticulture and construction classes.
I am not afraid to admit that I thought I knew everything I guess I dont, the 18-year-old said.
The high school was a small picture frame that was empty, Criss added. At the alternative school, the frame that was once empty is starting to become a part of my future.
Marsan Valdez, 19, moved to Baker City recently from Hermiston. She hopes to earn her General Education Development (GED) certificate at the alternative school. From there she plans to enroll in the Job Corps where she will study welding. Next, she will enlist in the Army where her goal is to be trained as a mechanic.
Sixteen-year-old Eddie Pantle also plans to join the Army upon earning his high school diploma. He said he also struggled in the traditional school setting.
It was hard for me, he said. They expected too much from me and I didnt have much to give.
Pantle said he is accomplishing educational goals that others in his family missed when they were growing up.
My family looks up to me, he said. I thank the teachers and staff and the ESD board for putting me on the right track.
Jessica Williams, 16, sees the alternative school as a great place to experience responsibility and to complete your work at your own pace. She says she hopes to graduate early in order to begin college classes where she will study business management. Her ultimate goal is to own a gift shop.
Nick Eddy, interim 5J superintendent, complimented the students on their meal preparation and public speaking accomplishments.
For those kids, speaking was a tremendous thing, he said.
School will have to move again
Nick Eddy, interim 5J superintendent, was impressed by the students behavior during the dinner students prepared and served to Baker School Board members.
Behavior has been an issue with alternative school students, both at the former classroom site at the YMCA gymnasium, where it was housed when the 5J district administered the program, and at the new classroom site at 2021 Washington Ave. The ESD is leasing the building from Norma Smith of Baker City for $500 per month.
In fact, a conditional-use permit issued to the school allowing it to operate in the central-commercial zone, will expire on June 4 because of complaints from neighbors, according to Tim Collins, city attorney and planner.
The planning commission members agreed that the school should find a more appropriate site for classes because of its potential to be a negative influence downtown and because of the lack of nearby parking, Collins said. In order to continue at the site, the school staff also must provide adult supervision for students while they are outside the building, he added.
Mark Coomer, Farm Credit Services manager, sent a letter to the planning commission objecting to the conditional-use permit application prior to a Nov. 21 hearing to consider the matter.
The banking firm is across the street from the school, and Coomer says the students have not been good neighbors since moving in about a month ago.
FCS is supportive of the ESDs goal to help alternative school children, Coomer said, but he objects to the lack of parking and the students behavior at the site.
FCS has had to request students to not use our parking lot as a skate park and to refrain from shouting obscenities, he wrote in his letter to the planning commission.
He added that the owners of the Warm Hearth, which is adjacent to the school, have had to call the police because of problems with students.
The facility is not conducive to appropriate supervision and discipline, he added.
The classroom first was established at teacher Benny Rudas property at the Oregon Trail Events Center when the school year began. It was closed in October after the city/county building inspector discovered building code violations in the barn that had been converted to a classroom on the property.
Coomer said he would like to see the building upgraded so that students could return to that site for classes.
Ruda said he and his staff have discussed the neighbors concerns with students.
Weve adopted a new set of rules and consequences for infractions, he said.
Ruda acknowledged that there is a large concentration of students in a small area at the new classroom site and that a greater percentage of his students have behavioral problems.
We will be working on that as part of our curriculum, he said. There should be less and less of a problem as time goes on.