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District growth presents continuing challenges

On Aug. 29, the first day of school in West Fargo, we had 10,635 students in school or

enrolled, an increase from the first day in 2016 of 584 students.

This exceeded both our internal projections and RSP & Associates' projections for 2017-18. The largest surprise was in kindergarten, where there were 968 students, up 91 students from the first day in 2016.

Previous growth challenges prompted two bond referendums (2011 and 2015). Since 2011, we

have added or are in the process of adding the following new schools: Freedom Elementary,

Independence Elementary, Legacy Elementary, Liberty Middle School, Brooks Harbor

Elementary (opened this fall) and Willow Park Elementary (opening fall 2018). Osgood

Elementary is in the process of a two-phase construction process to convert it from a

kindergarten center to a K-5 elementary. Horace Elementary received an addition. Sheyenne

Ninth Grade Center was added onto and converted into Sheyenne High School, and West Fargo High School has been remodeled and added on to. The community's support has helped us respond and keep up, but the growth continues.

Given the unabated growth and this fall's enrollment, the West Fargo School Board asked that I

initiate another Long Range Facilities Planning Task Force this year. Their charge will be to

address the following challenges:

Respond to the district's most recent enrollment projections showing growth at all levels

over the next five years.

• Short term (two-four years) interim solutions to elementary, middle level, and high school overcrowding that is projected to occur in the next couple of years, and prior to any realistic ability to construct new, more permanent solutions.

• Long term solutions to middle level and high school enrollment projections, which will significantly exceed capacity in the next five years.

• Reflect the most important driving values identified by staff and by the committee.

• Address strategic considerations including funding, phasing, and appeal to district stakeholders.

Specific short term challenges are these:

• Elementary: Even with the addition of Brooks Harbor this year and Willow Park next year, elementary growth on the south side will demand additional space.

• Liberty Middle School is already at its capacity of 1,200, and will exceed it next year.

Longer term challenges

• South side middle school enrollment will outgrow any short term solutions to Liberty Middle School's enrollment.

• Sheyenne High School will reach its capacity by 2019-20.

• Elementary growth may demand additional space at Horace Elementary and/or other south-side locations.

• Potential north-side growth triggered by the diversion may demand additional space at

• Harwood and/or other north-side locations.

The task force that addresses these issues will be made up of parents, community members,

school board members, and administrators. The time frame for their work will be from

November to March, at which time they will report their recommendations to the school board,

and the board will determine next steps in addressing the exciting but challenging growth in

West Fargo Public Schools.

In the meantime, we appreciate the community's support and understanding as growth impacts enrollment boundaries and transportation routing. Another task force is beginning work this month to make recommendations for elementary boundaries for 2018 and beyond when Osgood and Willow Park Elementary Schools are finished, and we are able to house all kindergarten children in their neighborhood elementary buildings. This task force will also be comprised of parents, community members, board members and parents. These are indeed exciting and challenging times for West Fargo Public Schools.