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Record number of students enrolled in Watford City schools

Posted 9/02/14 (Tue)

By Stephanie Allums
Farmer Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Watford City High School had to pull out both sides of the gymnasium bleachers for the first day of school assembly to fit all of the students.
According to Superintendent Steve Holen, the district is about two years ahead of the demographic study for student projections.
“We were prepared for the growth this year,” Holen said. “It did outpace our projections, in particular, at the 6-12 level which has been lower than the K-5 growth the past several years.”
The school board is having another study done this fall to revisit the projection numbers and to get a more accurate count for the next five years, Holen explained.
“I’m not sure that we are really surprised anymore with the numbers,” he said. “We do expect a level of growth, but the pace of growth is really dictated by the build of our community and the amount of housing that will come online in the near future.”
The first week and a half at the high school has been a jumble of organized commotion and teams working together to get tasks done in a smooth and timely manner.
“We have a good structure for the students to follow and the teachers are doing a great job helping students out when they have questions,” Assistant High School Principal Randy Cranston said. “It’s a major change with the amount of students that we have. We have definitely reached capacity.”
Last week, Watford City High School had already been swamped with more than 635 students. The elementary school saw its enrollment at 720 students, bringing the total McKenzie County School District No. 1 enrollment to more than 1,355 students.
“We are excited about our new students and families and we hope they feel welcomed to our school district and community,” Holen said. “The opportunity of this growth is still very exciting to everyone involved with the school district and we are embracing those opportunities as much as possible.”
With the increase in student population also comes growth in the curriculum.
“We have more electives for students to choose from, which I believe is exciting for both the students and the teachers,” Cranston said. “We definitely needed them because without them our numbers in each classroom would have been over 30 consistently in most subject areas. However, 30 is going to be a norm until the new school gets finished, and maybe will be for a long time as we continue to grow.”
Along with the class sizes, there are a small handful of other concerns and struggles that the high school and district as a whole are facing. One problem at the high school is that there is a shortage of lockers.
“We are working on this issue and we should have a solution, hopefully, by mid-October or before,” Cranston said.
Other areas of concern include the food service, building capacity, education quality and maintaining teacher/student ratios.
“Right now, our ratios are not ideal - primarily based on the lack of additional classrooms outside of portables,” Holen said. “While the ratios are not critical, if the growth continues through the school year, additional sections may need to be added with additional portables being used at the elementary school. This is hopefully, a short-term issue and we are making the best of it.”
Holen said, “We are managing our issues and pressure points and ensuring they don’t affect the climate of our buildings and diminish the education process. The educational environments are still very sound, and we are blessed to have the two quality facilities we have right now to carry us through this growth period and transition to the third building opening the second semester of 2015-2016.”
Cranston agreed and said the high school has had to “tweak” a few things here and there, but nothing major.
This past summer, the district office was not quiet at all. They spent many hours planning and developing the new high school, along with hiring many new teachers and staff to fill vacant and new positions.
“It was a very busy summer in the district office with our hiring, employee housing, summer projects, and planning the high school project,” Holen said. “However, the reward is seeing all of the great new staff on the first days of school and all of the students return to quality facilities for education. We are very excited about our new staff this year, and believe the school district is as ready as it has ever been to educate students and meet the challenges of another school year.”
Cranston said each school year just flies by so fast.
“We have a great opportunity to get to know new students every day and I really enjoy what’s happening here,” he said. “There are not too many places or fields of work where you get to meet somebody new every day. This is something that I look forward to each and every day.”