Mustangs to Hawks: West Fargo School Board approves boundary changes, adding students to Horace High School
The changes mean about 70 Aurora Elementary School students in each grade will become part of the Heritage Middle School and Horace High School feeder system.
WEST FARGO — The West Fargo School Board is changing its elementary school boundaries in an attempt to ease overcrowding in the Sheyenne High School feeder system.
The changes mean about 70 Aurora Elementary School students in each grade, who live west of the Sheyenne River, will become part of the Heritage Middle School and Horace High School feeder system, instead of entering the Sheyenne High School feeder system.
The board approved a change to the boundaries on a 4-to-2 vote, Monday, Jan. 24. Board President Jim Jonas and member Jessica Jackson voted against the proposal.
At the board’s Monday meeting, five parents took the opportunity to speak to the board about the proposed change. All are also employees of the district.
Ann Leshovsky, a Liberty Middle School administrative assistant and one of several employees to speak at the meeting, said her family has been shifted six times already as West Fargo Schools have grown and more schools have been built and boundaries changed.
Leshovsky said her child was denied the request to remain in the Sheyenne feeder system, but she is aware of at least 30 other families who do not actually live in the feeder system but have been able to remain.
While the parents mentioned how they have already accommodated boundary changes or the hardship caused to students when they are expecting to become a Sheyenne Mustang but are forced to become a Horace Hawk, many argued the district has moved too fast with these proposals and have not had good enough communication with families.
“As a parent and a taxpayer, the boundary decisions that you guys make will always make people angry," Darrin Boehm said. “I don’t think it’s good enough. I don't think it was enough time and I don’t think the communication was good enough. I urge you to vote no. It isn’t in the best interest of the kids.”
Parent and teacher Matt Slocomb said his daughter received letters of welcome to Liberty Middle School and not long after received an email saying she may not be attending Liberty but may go to Heritage. He asked the district to consider how these incidents affect students.
“Kids need structure and predictability,” he said. “We need to consider that when making these changes.”
Jonas said he has heard from many parents regarding the boundary change but a theme of poor communication from the district to the staff was a resounding theme. On Monday, he agreed with that assertion.
“That’s not the West Fargo way. We do things right,” Jonas said.” I don’t think we did justice to stakeholders. The blame is on me as president.”
Jackson agreed the communication with families could have been better and needs to be better in the future.
Superintendent Beth Slette said the reason the district has moved so quickly to propose the boundary changes is because the district is growing even faster than it planned, and Sheyenne High School and Liberty Middle School are simply overcrowded already.
The district anticipates 400 to 500 new students every year. But in 2021, the district had about 650 new students across the district, adding more to the Sheyenne feeder system than expected, she said.
“The unprecedented growth is already beyond what we tried to plan for,” Slette said.
Sheyenne High School is currently the largest high school in the state of North Dakota. Historically, the district has tried not to have large schools and would prefer not to have middle schools with more than 1,200 students.
There are currently six elementary schools in the West Fargo High School feeder system, five elementary schools are in the Sheyenne High School feeder system, and only three currently in the Horace High School feeder system.
“Because when those schools get larger, you lose opportunities for students,” Slette said.
Slette presented the board Monday with three options. The first would be to do nothing and keep the current boundaries. However, Slette said this would mean both Sheyenne High School and Liberty Middle School would remain at capacity of about 1,261 students at Liberty and 1,563 at Sheyenne. Liberty's capacity is 1,200 students, while Sheyenne's is 1,560 students. By Fall fall 2026, Liberty would grow to 1,484 students and 1,780 would be at Sheyenne High School.
“Doing nothing is always an option,” Slette said.
A second option would be to move specific grades from the Mustang feeder system to the Hawk feeder system.
However, Slette said students would be given very little time to wrap their minds around changing feeder systems and schools would still be very full and there would be no wiggle room if new students come in.
The third option, which is what staff recommended, would be to move about 70 students from each grade at Aurora Elementary who live west of the Sheyenne River into the Horace High School feeder system instead of the Sheyenne feeder system.
Slette said this is the preferred option because this Aurora boundary is home to about 280 students, which is the number needed to help ease overcrowding.
Also, the Sheyenne River provides a natural boundary the district can go by to keep neighborhoods closer together. Aurora Elementary School has no boundaries that are right next to Liberty Middle School or Sheyenne High School.
Slette said this change of boundary has the most likelihood to last well into the future.
Board members also discussed the problems that can arise due to large schools and larger class sizes. Board member Trisha Page said the effects of a large school on students' mental health is a concern.
Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools Vincent Williams said in large school populations, it is easier for students to hide and not seek the support they may need from teachers or staff. However, as a former principal at Sheyenne, he pointed out staff does a fantastic job of trying to reach all students.
Families will be allowed to request an in-district transfer in an effort to remain in the Sheyenne feeder system, which Slette said will be considered once the district can calculate the numbers of requests.
About 21 students currently live in the Sheyenne High School feeder system but are attending Horace High School.