AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
For the past six years, Watford City’s schools have been chugging along setting record enrollments each and every year.
And for the past six years, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 received a revised 10-year enrollment projection by RSP, a planning and enrollment consulting firm that does enrollment projections for several North Dakota schools, as well as other schools in the Midwest.
When the influx of new people and their school-aged children arrived in Watford City six years ago, the school district knew that it couldn’t just guess at what could be happening and that it needed more concrete data to help them guide their decisions as to when they had to hire more teachers, add onto existing schools or even plan on building new schools.
As we have seen, the enrollment projection data provided by RSP has been crucial to the district. But it has taken the school board and the public a little bit of time to grow accustomed to seeing the projected enrollment growth that RSP has been forecasting.
For example, back in 2013 I’m sure everyone was shocked when RSP estimated that the district would see 1,622 students by the start of this year’s school year. After all, at that time the district only had less than half that many students. And no doubt there were doubters in 2015, when RSP projected that by the start of the 2024-25 school year the district would have over 3,900 students.
But a funny thing has happened over the past several years as RSP continues to refine its projections process on a community that has grown from 1,450 to nearly 8,000 in the past six years and our district’s enrollment has grown from 700 to over 1,500 in the same time period. RSP’s projection numbers are starting to come into line with what our school system is actually seeing.
So when the oil slowdown happened, most people thought that the school’s enrollment would drop correspondingly. RSP had projected that enrollment would continue to increase. And it did.
And those are the kind of accurate enrollment projection numbers our school district needs to have to plan for the future. Even if it is hard to believe the latest projections that McKenzie County Public School District No. 1’s enrollment is going to double to over 3,000 students in the next 10 years.
That kind of slow and steady growth in our student numbers is good for the community. It shows that more and more young families are moving into Watford City and the surrounding area. It’s good news for our housing and retail sectors as these new families find housing and contribute to our local economy.
While the latest enrollment projections should not really have come as a surprise to anyone, it is definitely going to force our school board to “dust off” their plans for an additional elementary school and begin having conversations with the school district patrons on how they are going to meet the future educational demands.