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Then and Now: WFPS Celebrates 140 Years

Oct. 9 marked the 140th birthday for West Fargo Public Schools.

On that date in 1876, a group of individuals voted to build the district's first schoolhouse for $500. It was at the corner of what is now 13th Avenue and Sheyenne Street. By January 1877, the first teacher was hired for a salary of $40, and her first class held 14 students. In the few years that followed, two more small elementary schools were built—Fairview and North. How things have changed.

Today, there are 17 schools and numerous other district facilities covering over 400 acres. This August, over 10,000 students attended on the first day. The district is the third largest district in the state. Our newest school, Brooks Harbor Elementary, is currently under construction at a projected cost of almost $14 million.

Growth has been a part of the district's history from the beginning. In the early years, the stockyards and packing plants brought many families to the district. No high school classes were available, however. Students wanting to go beyond the eighth grade transferred to the North Dakota State University High School Academy, Fargo Central High School, or enrolled in private school. That changed in 1939 when a bond election resulted in construction of West Fargo High School at the corner of First Avenue and Third Street.

Made primarily from poured concrete, the school was a WPA project that is still used today to house Community High, the Public Library, Head Start, and the Transition Academy.

Fast forward to 1985, and a new West Fargo High School was under construction. Over the next several years, South, Eastwood and Westside Elementary Schools were built. Growth slowed in the 1990s, but took off again in the 2000s and has not slowed. Successful bond referendums in 2002 ($31million), 2005 ($27 million), 2011 ($82.5 million), and 2015 ($98.1 million) saw remodeling of existing schools and the addition of needed schools. The district's 17 schools are in five cities—Harwood, Horace, Reiles Acres, Fargo, and West Fargo.

Today the district employs 1,800 staff, serves 1.6 million meals a year and its buses transport students over 760,000 miles a year. From a total class of 14 students in 1876, the district has grown to have almost 900 students just in kindergarten.

From that first year, when the first building cost $500 and the one teacher was paid $40, we have grown to have a projected general fund budget for 2016-17 of $120,326,350.

Through the years, it is evident that for West Fargo Public Schools, there have been two constants: 1) relentless growth has made our community and our school district a place that families choose to live, work, and enjoy; 2) our patrons have valued children and education from the beginning.

In 1876, that caring group of citizens saw the need for a school, and put in motion the means to make it happen. That same 1876 spirit exists today. In 2016, a group of elected school board members still come together two Mondays a month, and in countless other committee meetings and conversations to represent the people of the school district. They chart the strategic direction and vision necessary to continue responding to the needs of our children. We carry forward and celebrate that same spirit born in West Fargo 140 years ago in 1876.