September 15, 2015

Another year of record enrollment

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the growth in student enrollment at McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 has slowed slightly, Watford City school administrators are still seeing the continuing trend of record enrollments.
As of Sept. 10, when the school submitted its official student numbers to the North Dakota Dept. of Public Instruction, the district had 1,390 students enrolled, a growth of 89 students from last year’s record enrollment of 1,301 students.
“We were hoping for 1,400 or more students on Sept. 10, stated Steve Holen, district superintendent. “But we’re still pleased to see the increase in student numbers that we had considering the slowdown in oil drilling.”
According to Holen, the growth in elementary school numbers is still driving the district’s total growth.
“We have 542 students enrolled in kindergarten through the third grade this year,” stated Holen. “When you consider that we have more students in those four grades than we had in the entire school district in 2010, the growth that we’ve experienced has been staggering.”
And it is those solid student numbers in the elementary school that has Holen confident that the school district will continue to see growth.
“I like that every grade from kindergarten through the eighth grade has over 100 students,” stated Holen. “The curve is right for continued enrollment growth. The question is how much growth can we expect?”
The largest number of students in the district is in the lower three grades with 139 students in kindergarten, while the first and second grades have 140 and 139 students, respectively.
With the growth of 89 students from last year, Holen says that the school district once again qualifies for the state’s Rapid Enrollment Grant.
“Our state Foundation Aid payment is $9,365 per student based on last year’s Average Daily Membership,” states Holen. “When a school district, like ours, sees a growth of more than four percent, it can apply for a Rapid Enrollment Grant to help offset the cost of the new students.”
According to Holen, the district will receive $4,000 per student, or approximately $356,000, in grant funds for those 89 students.
“The Rapid Enrollment Grant doesn’t pay for all of the costs associated with the new students,” states Holen. “But it helps.”
The growth in student numbers has forced the district in recent years not only to expand its existing elementary school, but to build a new high school as well. In addition, the school board is now contemplating the need for a second elementary school.
“The growth has been good,” states Holen. “This year, we didn’t see any radical changes in the number of students in any of our grades.”
And considering the slowdown in drilling activity in the state’s oil patch, Holen is pleased with the district’s enrollment numbers.
“The downturn in drilling activity has brought us some degree of stabilization,” states Holen. “The district expects to see long-term growth in terms of student numbers as a result of the number of oil-related production jobs in the area.”
With Watford City High School’s student numbers above the threshold of 325 students for the second year, Holen also says that this will be the last year that Watford City competes as a Class B school in sports.
“With 327 students in grades nine through 12 this year, we are officially moving to the Class A ranks in sports,” stated Holen. “For the second year, we are above the 325 student number in high school.”
According to Holen, Watford City’s student numbers are still above those of the Class A cities of Wahpeton and Valley City.