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Big changes coming for school district

Liberty Middle School will open its doors to students on Tuesday. Daniel Determan / West Fargo Pioneer

The West Fargo School District is typically in a state of flux, and the 2013-2014 school year will be no different, as a series of prominent changes have come to the area.

A noteworthy change was the hiring of Jennifer Fremstad as West Fargo High School's new principal, taking the role from Gary Clark. Fremstad spent the last the last eight years at Fargo South High School as an assistant principal.

"It's bittersweet," Fremstad said. "My time at South was amazing, both personally and professionally. It was an opportunity to experience a large school and really grow my capacity as a building leader. That was an important piece of why I am here now. But the opportunity to work in this progressive, growing district in the midst of transition was too good to pass up."

Fremstad -- a Courtenay, N.D., native -- accepted her new role expecting to hit the ground running based on her previous experiences.

"When we talk about student dynamics, Fargo and West Fargo are comparable," Fremstad said. "It is an exciting new challenge, yet with a familiar dynamic. I was hoping that that would create a smoother transition for me."

One dynamic she has not experienced, however, is the continual growth in enrollment, which may create issues with space and classroom sizes, but Fremstad shows little concern for these potential problems.

"My biggest red flag was space, but that is being addressed," Fremstad said. "Everything I have seen that is a concern is not something that the district doesn't know about and is not working on remedies for. I had no hesitations when that call came in March."

On the contrary, she views the rising enrollment as an exciting challenge for her, her staff and the district as a whole.

"Love it or hate it, it is a good problem to have," Fremstad said. "You are seeing growth in numbers, but I think the more exciting thing is the growth you are going to see in student learning. It is my hope that you will see continued improvement in scores. We saw a nice increase last year, and with the teachers in place, that certainly can continue."

While she has the big picture in mind, Fremstad insists on focusing on the small but important facets of education this year.

"This year is about developing relationships with my students and my staff," Fremstad said. "A common goal of student learning is not unfamiliar to this staff. We need to have a solid concept of who we are, and that comes through relationships."

Another big change for the district is the addition of Liberty Middle School, which is located at 801 36th Ave. East. The school's doors open this year to account for the growing population south of the interstate and to take stress off of Cheney Middle School.

It was announced in July 2012 that Denise Jonas, who has spent the last five years as assistant principal and activities director at Cheney Middle school, will assume the role of Liberty's first principal.

"There are not a lot of opportunities where you take on a new school build," Jonas said. "It is very humbling. There are a lot of people in the West Fargo area making this happen, but I am extremely excited to be able to take on this next step in helping West Fargo grow."

As the school opens, Jonas hopes to work closely with Cheney principal Don Lennon and the Cheney staff to make a positive impact on the district's middle school students, while creating an effective atmosphere for students to come and learn..

"Mostly, we want to make a safe, positive environment for our students to come, learn and share ideas," Jonas said. "We are all about the kids and helping them build their self-esteem and their leadership skills, while increasing their education."

Due to the ongoing construction on Veteran's Boulevard, Jonas encourages parents to visit and read her "Principal's Blog" for updates on parking.

Perhaps the most striking change this year is the Sheyenne 9th Grade Center's expansion into Sheyenne High School. The transition will come in stages over the next two years, and the school will only house freshman and sophomores this year.

Greg Grooters, who has been serving as the 9th Grade Center's principal for the past six years, will continue leading the school through the expansion, and sees challenge stemming from the introduction of the new school's tradition.

"We're going to have 400 packers in our building and 400 mustangs," Grooters said. "Our challenge is to begin Mustang traditions while honoring and continuing Packer traditions, because there will be a little of both for a while. There will be a lot of opportunities for positive things if we start positive."

Activities director Ross Richards is presented with a challenge in terms of space, as the expansion of activity space will not be complete until the fall of 2014.

"We have one locker room and a gym with two courts," Richards said. "That presents problems when our number of teams has doubled or even tripled in some cases. We currently have 800 students in this building, but are providing activities in a space for 600 students."

Despite potential issues, both Grooters and Richards are eager to begin their roles as the first administrators in the first year of this new school and expect to maintain the high standards of the district.

"It's an honor and a challenge rolled into one," Grooters said. "Sometimes you come onboard an entity that is running well and sometimes you come onboard an entity that is not, but we have a chance to get it right the first time. We have always started off by challenging our staff to make this the best year of education in the kids' life, and we want to keep the bar high."

The new school year begins on Tuesday for grades 1-12. Kindergarten classes will begin on Thursday, Aug. 29.