The words "open enrollment" didn't surface at all during the recent legislative session. At least not officially.

The interest that was manifest in the 1988 session was lacking, and that's both good news and bad news.It's good news if the lack of interest is an indication that the Salt Lake District is getting beyond the concerns surrounding closure of South High School. Open enrollment as a means to gain dubious ends in that one district would have been a bad approach.

Such an ill-motivated incentive for open enrollment would likely have doomed the concept, or at least have complicated its implementation for the foreseeable future.

If, however, open enrollment is truly a dead issue in Utah, that's bad news.

Creating "magnet" schools with special emphases, then opening them to all eligible students, is a concept that deserves honest study in an open-minded arena.

With effective planning, Utah, particularly the Wasatch Front, could avoid the pitfalls that have diluted the effects of open enrollment in some other parts of the country.

At the same time, the state could learn from those areas where magnet programs and open boundaries have been effective.

Across the country, there are good and bad examples that could help Utah in developing a pattern to fit its own geographic, economic and educational realities.

At least one legislator, Rep. Richard Bradford, R-Sandy, is hanging onto the idea and may bring it up again.

He has, specifically, a vision of an academic high school in Salt Lake County that would welcome qualified students throughout the area. The notion is still in the conceptual stages, he says, but the very idea opens the door to a lot of thinking.

If you're dreaming, you may as well dream big.

Why just one high school in a district with a special program? Why not an area of special emphasis at each of the district's high schools? Science in one, humanities in another, vocational/technical training in another, exceptional business courses here, health sciences there and a preteaching emphasis across town.

Developing such programs and then opening district boundaries to allow students the option of attending a school where individual goals could be best served seems reasonable. Not simple, but reasonable.

The obvious obstacles, and some that no doubt lurk beneath the surface, could be dealt with if education leaders would study the issue in an atmosphere of mutual concern for what's most important - what's best for students.

Already, some high schools have exceptional programs in certain areas of study or they have exceptional teachers around whom outstanding programs could be built.

Obviously, a good basic program would be the foundation for every school, regardless of its chosen emphasis.

Open enrollment fits with the state's objectives for earlier graduation for students who are ready, better preparation of students for either more education or the world of work, and more individualized programs.

The State School Board's new strategic plan, "A Shift in Focus," foresees major changes in delivery of education in Utah.

The board, as "parent" of the plan, now has an obligation to take strong leadership in creating the changes that will allow that focus to shift from the system to the student. The board should not wait for the Legislature to determine education's future in Utah. It should be pro-active, not reactive.

Open enrollment is certainly not the only answer to Utah's educational needs. But it could be one piece of a remodeled program that aims to make schools more responsive to the needs of today's world - the world today's students must live in and where they must succeed or fail.