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With no teacher, students have to switch schools

WILLISTON — Sixth-graders at a rural elementary school in western North Dakota had to transfer after their teacher decided to skip school — for the entire year.

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Williston New Public School District Principal Steve Guglich said Friday the 13 sixth-grade students at Round Prairie Elementary were moved to Stony Creek Elementary after he and Round Prairie Principal Robert Smith considered their options. The schools are about 20 miles apart.

He said a teacher with more than 13 years of experience in Spokane, Wash., had accepted the Round Prairie job, but that he wouldn’t be available to start until Aug. 25, five days after the first day of school.

While substitute teachers filled in, the late-arriving teacher emailed to say he didn’t know if he could arrive in Williston by Aug. 25. In fact, he wasn’t sure he could make it all.

“We were stuck without a teacher,” Guglich said.

Like other districts in North Dakota’s Oil Patch, the rural district has been dealing with the challenges that go hand-in-hand with the oil boom and a surge in population.

Round Prairie, 17 miles from the district office in Williston, was already strained by its three open teaching positions — two kindergarten teachers and one fifth-grade teacher. Guglich said Smith was doing double-duty managing the school as well as teaching the fifth-grade students.

“He always keeps a pretty positive attitude. He’s one of the people who will do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Guglich said.

It was decided to move the 13 sixth-graders to Stony Creek, four miles from Williston, because it was “better to move them instead of having them be without a teacher,” he said, though he did say there were some complaints from parents about extra travel.

Stony Creek already had a six-grade class; now it has 41 sixth-graders in two classes.

“I talked to (the sixth-grade students). They like their teachers. On Wednesday, their first day, we had getting-to-know activities and an ice cream social. It was a good transition,” Guglich said.

Round Prairie will only serve K-5 students.

The New Public School District is a rural school district that takes students from communities around Williston, as well as some from within city limits. The district, comprised of 1,161 square miles, has three schools around Williston.

At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, district-wide enrollment was 160 students, Guglich said. By the end of the 2013-14 school year the number had doubled.

As of Friday, enrollment has climbed to 405, he said.

Guglich said in addition to the three teachers needed at Round Prairie, the district is still looking to hire a fifth-grade teacher at Garden Valley Elementary, a library media specialist and a physical education teacher, the latter two rotating among the three schools.