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A good problem to have

Posted 9/30/09 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

For a school system the size of McKenzie County Public School District No. 1, having too many students is a good problem to have. But when does this problem go from being a good problem to a situation where it affects learning and teaching?
Enrollment at Watford City Elementary School is currently sitting at 273 students. A number that when compared to the 400 students attending the elementary school in the mid to late 1980’s may seem like nothing. However, when you compare that number to more recent years, it looks great. During the 2000-2001 school year the elementary school saw enrollment numbers around 300, with numbers dropping since then. The last year close to this year’s enrollment was the 2003-2004 school year with 279 students.
“For the past four years, we’ve had enrollment numbers between 248 and 252,” says Sherri Lervick, Watford City Elementary School principal. “We ended last year with 252, and eight of those students moved, so we are looking at 29 new students.”
Watford City Elementary School averages 39 students per grade with two teachers in each grades except for first and second grade which have three teachers each.
“It’s difficult to decide when a class is too large, but this is something that Mr. Holen, district superintendent, and I are watching very carefully,” says Lervick. “With the larger classes we have two options, add an aide or another section of that class. It is vital for students in kindergarten, first and second grade to have the smallest class size possible because that is where they learn the basics that they will build on throughout elementary school.”
With 41 kindergartners, 42 first graders and 42 second graders it’s difficult to understand why the district didn’t choose to put three teachers in kindergarten as it did with the first and second grade classes.
As of now, the kindergarten teachers are sharing an aide because of the large number of students in each class, but there is still only two teachers. According to Lervick, the district is closely monitoring the situation, and if the need arises, they will make  the necessary changes. 
“Both the students and the teachers struggle with large classes,” says Cari Liebel, Watford City Elementary School kindergarten teacher. “Students get less attention from the teacher and they miss out on some activities that we can’t do with so many students. It’s also difficult on the teachers because we can’t get to everyone’s needs as quickly.”
Fortunately, at this time, the elementary school still has a few classroom options left should they decide to add more teachers in the future.
“If we decide that the kindergarten class is too big, we know the school board will back us on whatever we think is best,” says Lervick. “That could mean adding another aide or beginning a new section of kindergarten.”
According to Holen, elementary enrollment would have to reach 300 students before substantial room issues arise.
“The elementary building has room for more students, which isn’t so much the case at the high school,” adds Holen. “But, we can certainly accommodate more students at both schools than what we have today.”