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Posted 8/25/15 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

When McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 opened its doors for the start of the 2015 school year on Thursday, Aug. 20, school administrators knew that they were going to see a continuation of the upward enrollment trend that the district has been seeing for the past five years. The question was just how many more students would be attending classes in our district this year? And what impact the lower oil prices and the reduction in oil drilling as a result  of those lower prices would have on this year’s student enrollment?
Well, the unofficial numbers are now in, and on opening day, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1’s enrollment stood at 1,403 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Last year on the opening day of school, the district welcomed 1,350 students to school.
While the growth in students numbers this year wasn’t as great as last year, it is still positive growth. And that growth is good news for both the school district, as well as for Watford City.
When demographers take a look at a community to determine whether its population is growing or declining, and whether or not it is getting younger or older, one of the first areas that they look at is what is happening in its school system.
And as the school’s enrollment numbers have shown over the past five years, Watford City is rapidly becoming a much younger community than it was just a few years ago. And that is a positive sign that more and more young families are making Watford City their home.
To put the growth into perspective, six years ago Watford City had 582 students in its entire school district. As of Aug. 20, 2015, there were 856 students in just kindergarten through sixth grade. And another 547 students in grades 7 through 12.
That means in just a six-year time frame, Watford City’s school system has increased its enrollment by a staggering 821 students.
For many school districts across the state, that kind of growth would be welcomed. But that level of growth has also posed its share of challenges to our school district. From hiring teachers and staff to building new schools, the district has been forced to meet the challenges head-on and to make plans for continued growth.
To meet the new growth, the district has expanded its current elementary school, and is in the process of building a new 800-student capacity high school. Plus the district is contemplating the need to build a second elementary school to help meet further growth in the lower grades.
The growth that we have seen with Watford City’s school system has definitely been a challenge. It is the same challenge that Watford City has seen as it struggles to build out its water and sewer systems, its road system, and meeting its housing needs.
They are challenges that are being met. But more importantly, they are challenges that reflect the positive growth of Watford City.