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Changes in boundaries is the price of growth

People love their neighborhood schools.

So much so, that from my experience, this is a truism: The last things a superintendent wants to do are close an elementary school or change elementary boundaries. Why? Because sometimes it's the last thing they do! Unfortunately, in a school district growing and changing as rapidly as West Fargo Public Schools, boundary changes are inevitable.

Since I have been superintendent in West Fargo, voters have supported two bond referendums that have brought various improvements to our district. Elementary spaces were a big piece of both of those referendums. We have built new elementary buildings (Freedom, Independence, Legacy, Brooks Harbor, school at Noridian site) and renovated existing buildings (Horace, Osgood, Berger) to absorb growth of 400-500 students per year, the majority of them elementary age. Further, a main goal of the long-range facilities plan approved with the 2015 referendum is to accommodate all kindergarten children in their neighborhood elementary buildings. We were out of space at the kindergarten centers, and the school board, with voter approval, planned to transition away from kindergarten centers instead of building a third center. Though the centers have had advantages, a primary disadvantage is that our youngest children ride buses to their neighborhood school, and then get on a transfer bus to take them to either the Lodoen Kindergarten Center on the north side or to the Osgood Kindergarten Center on the south side. In 2018, this will be resolved and all kindergarten children in the district will be able to attend their neighborhood elementary school.

Progress comes with a price, however. We cannot make room for kindergarten children in their neighborhood elementary buildings and accommodate continued growth from the new neighborhoods without changing boundaries. This will require that some neighborhoods move from one elementary building to another in order to balance enrollments. These changes will happen in two phases—the first will be for next school year. A neighborhood just east of Sheyenne and north of 40th Avenue that had been assigned to Freedom Elementary has been reassigned to Aurora. Aurora's attendance area will be divided, with the opening of Brooks Harbor Elementary to the north of Aurora. Freedom must lose some of its attendance area in order to accommodate kindergarten children. The second phase of boundary changes will happen across the district prior to fall 2018. On the north side of I-94, boundaries will have to be adjusted when the new north-side elementary school opens, so that kindergarten children can attend their neighborhood schools. Lodoen Kindergarten Center will be repurposed to house early childhood special education and Head Start classrooms from across the district. On the south side, boundaries will need to be adjusted more with the transitioning of the Osgood Kindergarten Center into Osgood Elementary.

A task force representative of different schools and neighborhoods will be formed to look at a number of draft scenarios that could potentially accomplish all of these necessary changes. The task force will provide input on these drafts so we can come up with a scenario to recommend to the school board which will hopefully impact the fewest number of families, and stand the greatest chance of serving for the longest duration. In an ideal world, we would not cause children to move from one school to another. Such transitions are difficult for some children, and create hardships for some families relative to daycare and job locations. On the other hand, it just is not possible to grow at the rate that we are and not alter elementary enrollment boundaries. Hopefully the community will provide input through the task force, and support the decision of the school board which must take into consideration the best interests of all children and families across the district.

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