In a student’s footsteps: Dalrymples visit Hagen, Berg ahead of middle school bond vote

As North Dakota's governor walked through the halls of Hagen Junior High School, he realized what school leaders have been saying for months. "There is no question that you need another school," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Friday. The governor and h...

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Press Photo by April Baumgarten Kayla Effertz, left, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, second from left, first lady Betsy Dalrymple, center, Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Douglas Sullivan, second from right, and School Board President Kris Fehr walk from Hagen Junior High School to Berg Elementary on Friday in Dickinson. The street they crossed is one that many students take as they go between the schools for classes.

As North Dakota’s governor walked through the halls of Hagen Junior High School, he realized what school leaders have been saying for months.
“There is no question that you need another school,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Friday.
The governor and his wife, Betsy Dalrymple, stepped into the shoes of the hundreds of students that have to commute between Hagen and Berg Elementary for class, even crossing the gated-off street during a tour of the two schools.
The trip was part of a day of school visits in western North Dakota. The Dalrymples visited Central Elementary School and Tioga High School in Tioga and Hagan Elementary School in Williston before coming to Dickinson.
The tour comes a month before a $65 million bond issue for a new middle school goes to vote on Oct. 7. The proposed middle school would house 960 students. Sixth-graders, which all attend Berg, would be moved to the middle school so Berg could be repurposed as a K-5 elementary school.
The school district predicts enrollment will increase 25 percent over the next five years. Almost 3,400 students are enrolled in Dickinson’s public schools - 510 are junior high students. The junior high school, built in 1935, had 373 students in 2008.
Hagen will meet its capacity in 2016, DPS officials have said, adding it cannot effectively be reconfigured to serve as a modern middle school.
“We are among a very few number of school districts that are facing this kind of growth,” Jack Dalrymple said.
Even now staff at Hagen have troubles facilitating the students in the building, Principal Marcus Lewton said. The gym is, by fire code, only meant to seat 360 children. But when students attend school assemblies there, more than 100 children must sit on the floor. The school can only add 30 more lockers - if it knocks out a trophy case and takes down a bulletin board - and students cannot take backpacks into rooms because it would leave the floors too crowded, Lewton said.
Teachers try their best and are handling the situation well, Lewton said. Some rooms have been repurposed and teachers are floated to other rooms for prep hours.
Though the governor said the school is getting creative, Lewton said he is running out of options.
“Our class sizes aren’t bad,” Lewton said. “We just can’t put anymore in the classes because there isn’t anymore room.”
A fact that Lewton mentioned to the Dalrymples was the time lost with students traveling between schools. Berg has 21 courses that are meant to be held at Hagen. Students lose approximately 345,800 total minutes a year while traveling between the schools, Lewton said.
“The amount of time a student spends with a teacher, or spends engaged in learning, is an indicator of how well a student is going to do,” Lewton said. “When you think about four minutes a day for every student for each of those classes, and you add that up over the entire year, that is a lot of class time missed.”
Hagen and Berg seem to be managing, Betsy Dalrymple said.
“I think they are well-kept up, but they are bursting from the seams,” she said. “It was just very obvious that they don’t have the physical plant to cope with the number of students that they have.”
DPS staff members got a chance to express concerns about rapid growth and education with the Dalrymples. Superintendent Doug Sullivan appreciated the governor making a trip to see the schools.
“He (Jack Dalrymple) is very engaged with what is going on in western North Dakota,” Sullivan said. “I think he understands the issues better than many people give him credit for; I know he does.”
One staff member raised an unsettling question: What if the bond issue does not pass?
It’s a question Jack Dalrymple has heard from other schools in the Oil Patch prior to a bond issue vote. He said not to even think about it, adding people are starting to understand the need for additional space.
“If they really understand that it is a true need, they usually do the right thing,” he said.
If the bond issue doesn’t pass, the district will keep trying, Sullivan said.
“The simple fact is that Hagen can’t serve this school district as a middle school,” Sullivan said. “It has lived its life.
“If it doesn’t pass, the first thing that people have to understand is we’ll come back again, because we are going to need a facility. You simply cannot put 600 children in Hagen. It’s not possible unless we do some drastic measures.”
Lewton said if Hagen’s situation doesn’t change, decisions will become drastic.
“I’ve told people this before, but with the current schedule and the current school calendar, it will not happen,” Lewton said. “What we are doing now will not work with 900 kids between these two buildings.”

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1210. Follow her on Facebook at april.baumgarten.

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