June 20, 2018

Schools running out of room

Editor’s Note: This is the final story  in a series of articles looking at the challenges Watford City has faced since 2012 and is facing today.

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 superintendent, can only shake his head in disbelief as he reflects on the changes and challenges that the district has seen since the Bakken exploded in 2012.
That growth saw the district’s enrollment mushroom from 698 students on the first day of school in the fall of 2011 to 1,529 students when the school bell rang to start the 2017 school year.
That growth of 831 students in just six years forced the district to not only hire the most teachers ever its history, but to begin an unprecedented building program to house all of the new students.
“What we saw start happening in the terms of enrollment growth was unlike anything we had ever seen before,” states Holen. “Before we were struggling with a declining enrollment, which presented a very different set of problems.”
Back in 2005, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 was facing declining student numbers, the same problem that virtually every other rural school district in North Dakota was facing. And Holen and the school board was actually considering doing the unthinkable, which was closing its elementary school and moving all students into the high school building.
“Back then we were downsizing our teaching staff by not hiring positions when teachers retired or left the district,” stated Holen. “And in 2008, we only had 25 children in kindergarten. We were close to just having one section of kindergarten.”
At the time, it was Holen’s and the school board’s greatest fear that as student numbers continued to decline, they would have no choice but to consolidate all classes into one building.
But then in 2010 the district’s enrollment trends started to reverse their downward direction.
“In the fall of 2011, we saw our enrollment numbers go up for the first time,” states Holen. “We had 581 students on the first day of school. It was our first ‘hmm’ moment when we thought something was happening.”

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