Oil Boom Schools: Williston Adds 350 Students; Watford Up 160

Librarian Diane Luttschwager reads to a class at Hagan Elementary School in Williston, N.D., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, on the first day of school. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Schools in the booming towns of Williston and Watford City welcomed hundreds of new students Monday.

Early enrollment estimates in Williston show a student body of about 3,150, an increase of about 350 students since the school year ended last May, said Superintendent Viola LaFontaine.

Much of the growth is in the elementary grades because many families moving to North Dakota’s Oil Patch tend to have young children. Williston now has about 300 students in 15 sections of Kindergarten.

Enrollment numbers are expected to go up and down throughout the year as many families move in and out of the community, LaFontaine said.

McKenzie County School District opened a new elementary school this fall and it’s already full, said Superintendent Steve Holen.

“We’re using every classroom we built to the max,” Holen said.

McKenzie County had 1,027 students on its first day of school Monday, up 162 students or nearly 19 percent more students than the district ended with last May.

“These numbers are still probably in flux,” Holen said.

Officials in Watford City are already beginning to plan for another building. A study projects that the school will have 1,622 students by the 2017-18 school year, and this year’s numbers are ahead of those projections, Holen said.

The district hired 20 teachers, counselors and other staff members, Holen said.

In Williston, the district hired 39 teachers to fill several positions left vacant by retirements, as well as new positions.

Williston Public Schools, which had prepared for a larger influx of students a year ago, accommodates the growing enrollment by renting 32 modular classrooms. The district also reopened McVay Elementary last fall, a school that had been closed for more than a decade due to declining enrollment.

The district has aimed to bring on additional classrooms to prevent class sizes from getting too large, LaFontaine said. The largest elementary classes this year are some sections of fourth through sixth grades with 25 students, she said.

“We wouldn’t want to go larger than 25,” LaFontaine said.

In Stanley, the district has 616 students this year, said Superintendent Tim Holte. The district ended last school year with 575 students.

Stanley recently added more elementary and high school classrooms to accommodate the additional students, Holte said.