March 10, 2010

Schools can handle growing number of students for now

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

With an increase in businesses and a shortage of housing, it’s no secret that McKenzie County is growing. While a growing community is a good problem to have, it can make things difficult if you’re trying to plan for the future.
It’s only March, but it’s time for school districts to start planning for the next school year. And school administrators are facing a lot of unknows when it comes to future enrollment numbers. Generally, schools look at the number of students graduating, the number of sixth graders and the number of expected kindergartners to plan for the coming year. But this year some schools are looking at a lot more.
“This year our enrollment has basically stayed the same,” says Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 superintendent. “We’ve gained some students and lost some, but we are concerned about what could happen next year.”
A busy oil field has allowed McKenzie County to continue growing new businesses and an ample amount of jobs have families moving to Watford City from all over the county. And according to word on the street, it’s not going to slow down. People in the oil field business continue to speculate that things will pick up a lot more throughout the coming year, which could mean that Watford City will continue to grow.
“We keep hearing that we should expect an influx of people because a boom is coming,” adds Holen. “We are planning ahead for more people, but we aren’t going to panic and start hiring more teachers because of what we hear. Until we start seeing actual growth, there is nothing to do but plan for the possibility.”
The possibility of more students is something that isn’t a concern for all of the schools in McKenzie County. Holen says that the high school has plenty of room for growth, a feeling that is shared by Murray Kline about the Alexander Public School.
“We’ve received six new students throughout this year,” says Murray Kline, Alexander Public School superintendent. “The influx of oil has helped us get our student count back into the 70s. As far as space goes, we have a long way to go before we become concerned about running out of room.”
According to Kline, the Alexander school had 180 students during the oil boom in the 1980s so he is certain they can handle double the number of students they have today.
The big concern in the county is the Watford City Elementary School, which is close to using all of its available space right now.
“We aren’t struggling for space at the elementary school right now,” says Holen. “But, if we received 50 to 60 more students, it would put a temporary burden on us to make room for the students. It would take a lot of effort to turn some space into classrooms, but we would be able to make it work.”
Planning for an influx in students is a good problem for county schools to have, and learning from the past, McKenzie County schools are ready for whatever the oil field has to offer them.