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Schools try to make room for students' return

As the largest population of West Fargo area students march back to school this Thursday, the West Fargo School District will brace for one more year of battling crowding issues.

Soon, two new schools will have administrators, teachers and students breathing a little bit easier at the District's two most-populated schools, Westside Elementary and the West Fargo High School. Expected to be in operation in 2007, both the elementary school in the Eagle Run development and the new center for ninth-graders will help skim some of the extra bodies off of the top of that pupil pool.

Until then, it's one more year of shuffling bodies around for the crew at the Leidal Education Center.

Eagle Run's new school, in particular, would have been a savior had it been in place for this school year. Westside, which lists its maximum population at about 560 students, will welcome more than 600 kids to the school on Eighth Street and Seventh Avenue West. That's a jump of more than 80 kids, and a population bulge that is making the District look at sending kids elsewhere.

In fact, dozens of kids will be asked to move down to Horace Elementary, the District's southernmost point.

"There will be some moving now and as new students come into the District, we'll be moving more down there later," Mark Lemer, business manager for the District, said. "There's no question that Westside is over-full. And the bulk of it is coming from Eagle Run. The new school there would have been a savior this year."

Principal Carol Zent, who will move down to the school in Eagle Run next fall, saw the big binge coming, as more and more housing starts continue to up the student population in that area. In fact, she and the School District's main offices are predicting that the school in Eagle Run could be more than 70 percent capacity when it opens next fall. The building is expected to hold about 450 kids comfortably.

"It's an area that has really been the kicker the last three years," Lemer said. "The growth down there, and in the areas south of there, is unreal. And they're all coming to Westside right now."

For now, Zent will make do with the space she has. Despite an eight-classroom expansion five years ago, art and music classrooms will have to become homes for actual main rooms, meaning the art and music instructors will travel from room to room to teach their classes.

"It's at a point where class sizes become the main concern, because our focus has always been to keep the class sizes reasonable," Lemer said. "If we can still do that for one more year, we'll be all right."

At the high school, students are again being asked to take early morning classes, and most seniors will be given open campus to ease the crowding issues there.

Even the Early Childhood Center is seeing huge numbers, with more than 400 kindergartners coming to the school, which also recently expanded. Horace kindergartners, in fact, will not be coming into town. The District has made space for one section of morning and afternoon kindergarten at Horace Elementary.

"They'll have 30-plus kids out there combined in those two sections," Lemer said.

It's the second time in three years that Horace kindergartners will stay down south.

While next year will prove to be much different, Lemer said the District is prepared to tackle the crowding problem for one more year. However, "the new schools will be a Godsend," he said.