When the West Fargo School District went from one high school to two in 2015, the process of splitting activities had been painful at times for longtime West Fargoans.
But as the district prepares to add a third high school just five years later, district officials say the process will likely be smoother.
The third middle school, Heritage Middle School, is slated to open this fall with about 543 students in grades six through nine, and construction on Horace High School will begin this spring with the school planned to open in fall 2021.
The West Fargo School Board approved a plan at its Monday, Feb. 10, meeting that allows for the Horace Hawks to have their own varsity teams of football, volleyball, girls basketball and boys basketball by fall 2021.
The school would co-op with Sheyenne High School for boys and girls hockey; boys soccer; boys and girls cross country; girls golf; boys and girls swimming and diving; boys tennis and wrestling in the 2021-2022 school year.
District officials said they will wait until spring sports participation numbers are available before deciding which spring programs should be co-ops or could stand on their own at Horace.
Superintendent Beth Slette said the key to a smooth split is transparency — making sure parents, students and staff have open communication about the process.
Business Manager Levi Bachmeier said there is often less of an emotional component when a district moves from having two high schools to three than when it adds schools after having just one high school since forming.
In 2014, the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center, which housed all ninth graders in the district, officially became Sheyenne High School with grades nine through 11.
The Mustangs football program began in the fall of 2014, but at that time, the two teams still had to share the Packers' field as the Sheyenne facilities were not finished.
By late 2015, softball and boys and girls hockey were the only remaining co-op teams in the West Fargo Public Schools system. Today, the girls hockey team, West Fargo United, is the only co-op.
Another change the district expects to smooth the split is that unlike Sheyenne High School, which opened the first year housing all district ninth graders plus Sheyenne-only sophomores and juniors, Horace High School will begin with only grades nine and 10. The freshmen and sophomores will have attended Heritage Middle School as eighth and ninth graders.
In the 2020-21 school year, grades six through nine will be at Heritage Middle School. Those students are currently in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades at Horace Elementary School, Deer Creek Elementary School and Liberty Middle School.
Sheyenne Athletic Director Ross Richards said Sheyenne High School will still have enough students to retain the strength of the programs that will be added at Horace.
“Obviously, any sort of separation will have an impact,” Richards said Monday.
Slette said that when determining if an athletic program is a stand-alone or requires a co-op, the district considers the safety of players involved, if the numbers can support and sustain a program, availability of facilities, scheduling and age of athletes to compete at varsity level.
When Heritage Middle School opens in the fall, about 1,096 students will be left at Liberty Middle School and the new school will take on 543 students.
In 2021, when Horace High School opens with grades nine and 10, Liberty Middle School will still have about 1,165 students, Heritage Middle School would have 467 students, Sheyenne High School will have about 1,516 students and the third high school will have about 271 ninth and 10th grade students.
The new high school will be at capacity with classes 9-12 for the first time in the 2023-24 school year. It will have a population of about 644 and Sheyenne High School will have about 1,471 students. Heritage Middle School will have about 571 students and Liberty Middle School will have about 1,252.
Junior varsity activities will begin at Heritage Middle School when it opens this fall.