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Schools weigh in: education leaders highlight increased enrollment

Speakers from three Dickinson schools and Dickinson State University celebrated the future of education in western North Dakota. During the State of Education luncheon on Tuesday, each speaker highlighted the positive direction that their respect...

Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel presents an update on DSU during the State of Education Luncheon on Tuesday. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)
Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel presents an update on DSU during the State of Education Luncheon on Tuesday. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

Speakers from three Dickinson schools and Dickinson State University celebrated the future of education in western North Dakota.

During the State of Education luncheon on Tuesday, each speaker highlighted the positive direction that their respective school is heading with increases in enrollment, updated buildings and technology because of the support of the Dickinson community.

Dickinson Catholic Schools

Steve Glasser, president of DCS, began his speech by reminding everyone how far Trinity High School has come since a fire wreaked havoc on a portion of the school three years ago. In the three years since the fire, students were moved to mobile classrooms and learned in the middle of a construction zone, but this January they were able to walk into a brand new 116,000-square-foot east wing that has everything from a black box theater, common areas, ceramic and arts room, music room and a new chapel.

"What a special community it is that everyone joins in and gathers to help those that are in need," he said.

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He said an architect will be coming to the school on Thursday to check off all of the final boxes.

Glasser said he thought most people were unaware that the St. John Paul II Chapel is open to the public.

"This is not just Trinity's chapel, this is your chapel," he said. "Please know that you are always welcome."

Trinity East and West Elementary, though not located in the same building, are united as one school, he said.

The elementary school students are in their first full year of the Leader in Me program where they apply for jobs, interview and then have to carry out the responsibilities of those jobs.

"Every child is entitled to leadership ability, and they use these skills daily," he said. "I really like that it holds students accountable. We've had tremendous parental support and feedback with this."

The junior high and high school's Future Business Leaders of America are the third largest program in the state, Glasser said, though they only started the organization two years ago.

The students run the concessions at the school and the bookstore, dubbed the Titan Emporium.

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Glasser said while enrollment was slightly down this year, they believe they hit a record of pre-school enrollment with 74 students this year and 54 registered for this fall.

"We are growing in the lower grades, which is very positive," he said. "We're hoping for the old 'if you build it they will come.' It's a beautiful new building, but we are certainly working hard on our culture, and we are doing everything we can to educate kids the best that we can."

Hope Christian Academy

Hope Christian Academy administrator Shane Bradley said he is thankful for the relationship all of the schools share in Dickinson because it allows parents the chance to pick the right fit for their child.

"We aren't in any competition with any other schools, we just provide different things," he said. "For us as a Christian school, we exist in a sense to support Christian families. I think it's an amazing thing to have an option of choice in Dickinson, a number of choices."

Bradley said the support of the community allowed the school to expand solely through charitable donations, so that the school did not go into debt.

"I would say in that whole process you grow as a people, you grow as a community, you get to learn people and be a part of something that is special," he said. "Our kids have grown. Our school has grown."

This school year HCA has 131 students from preschool through 12th-grade and expects to graduate four students.

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The school held their first graduating class in 2016 with three student receiving their diplomas.

"I can say out of all of the kids that will or have graduated, they are going on to do the things that they want to do," he said.

Bradley said the school has more than doubled from the 60 students just six years ago, but it is not about the numbers but the opportunity.

"We just want to be a choice for parents that would choose education in this way," he said.

Dickinson Public Schools

Doug Sullivan, DPS superintendent, said 3,429 students were enrolled in September 2016, and of those students only 10 have left the district so far this year. He said that is an accomplishment for a public school of its size.

Dickinson Middle School will be opening this summer for grades six through eight.

"It's important to note that Dickinson Middle School is the first middle school ever built in this community for middle school kids," he said.

The 200,000-square-foot middle school will be able to accommodate 960 students and will have 34 classrooms, laboratories, art rooms, computer labs, music rooms, football field, soccer field, gymnasium, aerobics and a forum space for art performances.

Because of students moving to the new location this fall, Berg Elementary School and Hagen Jr. High School will not be needed for middle school students.

Sullivan said Southwest Community High School and the Dickinson Adult Learning Center will move across the street into Hagen Junior High School, and Berg Elementary School will stay closed for 10 to 11 months "so that we make sure we get it right."

Sullivan said he expects that, because of the current state financial environment, DPS will have to deficit spend for a couple of years. However, because of the management the last eight to 10 years, the school is very well positioned to be able to deal with that situation without forcibly laying anyone off.

Sullivan said projections currently show that DPS could have a kindergarten class of 368 next school year and more than 400 students in 2018-2019.

"How exciting is it that all three of the largest school systems in this community are continuing to grow and are continuing to see an increase in enrollment?" he said.

Dickinson State University

DSU President Thomas Mitzel started his presentation by asserting that he wants DSU to hold a special place in the community.

"DSU does not want to be a university within the city of Dickinson," he said. "DSU does not want to be a university within western North Dakota. DSU wants to be a university of Dickinson and western North Dakota."

Mitzel said the guiding principles of the university are students, teamwork and community, as well as faculty and staff.

He said they brought back community events on campus this year to form that teamwork and community, including Arts on the Western Edge and Harvest Days.
"We want to increase the traffic of the community onto our campus," he said. "This really is your campus. If we can't go forward together, we aren't going to go forward together nearly as strongly as we should."

Mitzel said the administration begin every conversation and each project with the question: How will this decision help enhance student education?

He said one thing they decided to switch up this year was to make scholarships "attached" to a student for four years. Students never have to reapply for scholarships, he said, but it also incentivizes them to try to get their degree within that four-year window.

DSU is currently looking at a 30.3 percent reduction in funding this biennium, which would would amount to a little more than $8.7 million because of loss of enrollment and state allotment, he said.

But he said he has been working diligently with local and state legislators to give DSU a little wind in their sails, just this once.

"I will tell you we are a lean, mean, fighting machine. We are running really well," he said. "We can't go a whole lot smaller."

But he said he remains optimistic. Mitzel, the faculty and staff at DSU are continuing to plan for a positive future for the university.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLSDICKINSON STATE UNIVERSITY
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