Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


New modular classrooms greeted Haines School kindergartners and first-graders on today's first day of school.

The new classrooms were needed because of the rural school's burgeoning enrollment, said Beth Bigelow, Haines principal.

She credited the growth to students who are returning to the public school from online programs, home schooling, private schools and transfers from other districts.

Last year teacher Leah Pepera taught a blended kindergarten and first-grade classroom of 22 students.

But when the number of students increased, teacher Andrea Belding was hired to teach a separate first-grade class of 20 students this year, Bigelow said. Belding returned to the district after a four-year absence when she moved to Central Oregon.

Another 17 pre-kindergarten students also attend Haines school, which serves students up to the sixth grade.

Last year, there were 89 students enrolled at Haines and this year's total is 101, Bigelow said.

The district paid about $59,000 for the used modular building, which is split into two classrooms, said Doug Dalton, Baker School District chief financial officer. It was purchased from Modern Building Systems of Aumsville.

Other work needed to get the building ready and to complete installation for the start ofschool was done by Dan Srack, Darrell Honeywell and Mike Watson of the district maintenance staff.

The effort began at the end of May, Watson said Thursday. The crew then busied itself putting the classrooms together and building a deck and access for students with physical disabilities.

Parent Heidi Dalton, who's the wife of Doug Dalton, has been working on a landscape design for the area around the building. The modular sits behind the historic 1911 Haines School, just outside the gymnasium/cafeteria.

The stage, which also is part of the gymnasium and cafeteria, has been closed off to provide a music classroom for teacher Rebecca Anderson, who splits her time between Haines and South Baker School. The maintenance crew also was put to work preparing that new classroom for the opening day of school, Bigelow said.

Landscaping improvements to the area between the old school and the modulars will include picnic tables, barrels and benches. The cost will be paid by a $225 grant from the Baker County Cultural Coalition.

This is the third year school secretary Linda Hatfield has submitted a successful grant proposal to fund landscaping on the school grounds.

Baker Electric was hired to take care of the modular building's electrical needs, including installation of interactive white boards that connect with laptop computers for students.

"I'm definitely a technology advocate," Pepera said Thursday as she prepared for the opening day of school.

She begins using the interactive system the minute her students arrive in the morning by recording what they want for lunch that day and uses it throughout the day.

"It's definitely a powerful teaching tool," she said, adding that it helps keep her students engaged in the lessons she's teaching.

Unlike the district's other kindergarten classrooms, Haines students will remain in school for a full day.

And although she admits that the youngsters are tired by day's end for the first few weeks, Pepera said they adjust quickly.

She is a strong believer in an all-day kindergarten program.

"Because of the standards, we need to have them here all day in order to teach them everything they need for first grade," she said.

Bigelow points to the dedication and enthusiasm of her entire staff - from the teachers, to the maintenance crew to community volunteers - when she speaks of the state Department of Education's recognition of the Haines School as a model for others to follow.

Haines and Brooklyn were among 27 named "model schools" for their top performance among high poverty schools by the Oregon Department of Education.

Baker School District staff members will be traveling to other districts to share strategies and techniques that have led to that success and to help struggling districts improve.

Bigelow and Brooklyn principal Troy Fisher were honored by the Baker School Board at its August meeting for their schools' achievements.

"This award speaks highly about how well our parents, teachers and students work together," Bigelow told the board.

But they won't be resting on their laurels as they reflect on why their school is considered a model for others, Bigelow said.

That sentiment is echoed by Pepera, who is in her 10th year of teaching, and her second year at Haines.

"Everybody at this school is constantly trying to find ways to make sure it stays that way and to make it even better," she said of the model school designation.