Milestone marking: School District celebrates 140th birthday this week
On Monday, Oct. 10, at the West Fargo Public Schools' district office, the Leidal Education Center, its namesake, former Superintendent Marvin Leidal, joined current Superintendent David Flowers and former Superintendent Chuck Cheney to deposit items into a time capsule honoring the district's 140th birthday.
The time capsule will be locked and placed inside the Leidel Center to be opened in 10 years, when the district celebrates 150 years.
But before Leidel deposited one of the many mementos and cards, he turned to Flowers to let him know he has already left behind one of the district's greatest gifts.
"I already gave you Mark [Lemer]" Leidel joked.
Lemer, the district business manager, has been at the helm of finances for the district for about two decades, since September 1995. He has guided the structure of bond referendums to help the district grow to include 17 schools, with two high schools and two middle schools, with as little tax impact as he could.
Most recently, Lemer was instrumental in educating the public impact of the $98.1 million referendum that was overwhelming passed last November to help pay for two new elementary schools, an aquatics facility, a hockey arena and many renovations and additions to existing schools.
Flowers, who was celebrating his own birthday on Monday, said the public's referendum support of West Fargo Schools is one of its proudest points in the district's legacy.
The fastest-growing district in the state has a long history of successful bonds that have helped pay for buildings and space to keep up with the student growth.
The district began on Oct. 9, 1876, when a group of residents of what was then Dakota Territory voted to open a school, and what would become the West Fargo Public School District's first building for $500. The first classes were held in 1877 with 14 students. In August 2016, the district was home to more than 10,000 students.
Before the 2015 bond, voters passed a $82.5 million referendum in 2011 and before that a $27 million referendum in 2005 and $31 million bond referendums in 2002.
The district may need to return to voters soon as it continues to grow. Flowers has said the district expects to grow by about 60 percent during the next decade after consultants projected last year that the district would see an increase of between 400 and 600 students each year.
And while the district buildings are keeping up with growth, former school board presidents Karen Nitzkorski and current board president Patti Stedman say the district's focus on students is what they will reflect on as their own legacies of public service in the district.
The shift to student focus has been important to current board president Patti Stedman, who was re-elected to a third term in June and appointed president for a second year in July.
Stedman said since she has served on the board, she's seen the seven members shift its focus to students and not just management and one of her favorite ways the district is doing what is best for students is its plan to shift all kindergarteners out of the kindergarten centers and into grade schools.
"I've always wanted kindergarten kids to be back in their home schools," Stedman said. "I wanted my kids to be in their home schools, I thought that was the hardest transition. For me, I'm really excited to see it happening. It will still be awhile, but it is happening."
Stedman is also proud to be a part of a school board that has been able to give the community as a whole amenities such as the future Hulbert Aquatic Center and hockey arena as well as school buildings.
Stedman serves as NDSBA's representative on the North Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors and was awarded the 2015 Barb Norby Scholarship Award last year at the North Dakota School Boards Association's annual convention. She said activities have always been important to her and the district.
"I'm a firm believer that if you can keep kids in activities ... then they are happier and that fits in their education. Activities has always been a highlight for me," she said.
Nitzkorski, a mother of three, was first appointed to the board in 2000 before she was elected to two four-year terms and served as board president in 2010-11. She decided not seek election to a third term in 2014 but has stayed heavily involved with the district as a chief fundraising officer for UP Aquatics, the private fundraising group for upgrades to the future Hulbert Aquatics Center.
For Nitzkorski, gaining more advanced placement courses in the district was a top priority as well as additional resources for struggling students.
"I wouldn't' say I was instrumental in getting more AP classes, but it is something I would say exponentially increased," Nitzkorski said.
During her tenure on the board, the district also became the first in North Dakota to offer dual credit courses, in which high school students could earn college credit courses while still in high school.
"We have a lot to be proud of in West Fargo," she said.