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Schools across the state are seeing population growth

More than a decade ago, many North Dakota schools — especially those in rural areas — were facing declining enrollments.

Since the oil boom hit at the end of the last decade, that trend has reversed, and not just in the Oil Patch but throughout North Dakota.

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“The most significant and probably the earliest impact was concentrated in the western part of our state,” said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota superintendent of Public Instruction. “But across the state we are seeing growth in almost all of our school districts. Certainly not declining enrollment in most of our school districts anymore as it was just a short time ago.”

Killdeer Public School has seen ever-changing growth, Superintendent Gary Wilz said.

“It changes daily — it literally changes daily,” Wilz said. “We’re at 440 kids right now.”

Before the boom, in the 2005-06 school year, the district had about 360 students from kindergarten through its senior class.

At the Griggs County Central School District in Cooperstown, which is roughly the same size as Killdeer, the faculty and staff have seen children of parents who moved to North Dakota to work in the oil fields but didn’t want to move their family into the thick of it, said Meghan Brown, principal of Griggs County Central High School.

“Most of the kids that we got this year that are new were from out of state,” Brown said. “So we’re starting to see families that are coming to North Dakota for the oil and for what’s going on in the western part of the state, but are placing their families here.”

This was the first year Brown was at Griggs County High School. She moved from New Rockford, where the couple that purchased her former home had moved to North Dakota to work in the oil industry.

Schools in western North Dakota have seen much more of an impact than those in the east, and have needed infrastructure projects to accommodate all of the new students and teachers.

Killdeer was approved for a grant from the North Dakota Land Board to install two portable classrooms, Wilz said. The school had three sections of kindergarten and two of each of the other grades through sixth. It finished a remodel about the same time that school began this summer.

“We had to find room for that additional elementary grade and the additional kindergarten that we added,” Wilz said. “Our former elementary library is now a fifth-grade classroom.”

The Mott-Regent Public School is in the beginning stages of planning a new building — parts of the district’s current building are more than 100 years old.

The Department of Public Instruction approves low-interest school construction loans for such projects, Baesler said.

In addition to expanding and reworking school buildings, the Killdeer Public School District is housing its teachers, Wilz said.

“We have three apartment units and we actually own a home, and we were also approved early this fall through the state land department for a grant for three duplex units — so six more housing units,” Wilz said.

But more important than the buildings is the education the students are receiving, Baesler said.

“Education is the most important piece,” Baesler said. “That’s what we do. We’re in the business of education. We’re in the business of helping our school districts deliver instruction to our students.”

It can be tough for students transferring between states because curriculums don’t always line up, Baesler said. Grade levels build upon one another and students with inconsistent standards who jump from state to state can have gaps in education.

Many school districts from across the state are growing primarily in the elementary grades, Baesler said.

“If they come to us as early elementary students, then they begin the standards and the foundation that we lay and there’s less risk of them having any gaps,” Baesler said.

While increasing enrollments is a challenge, it’s one that has been welcomed, Baesler said.

“It’s such a positive challenge,” Baesler said. “It’s a positive issue that we face. Initially, when the oil boom began again, there weren’t a lot of families that were moving into our communities.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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