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West Fargo parents concerned over proposed school boundary changes

A Q&A-style meeting was held Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Aurora Elementary School.

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Horace High School Principal Pam Cronin, with microphone, along with West Fargo Schools Superintendent Beth Slette, right, and other West Fargo Schools officials, spoke to parents about proposed school boundary changes at Aurora Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Wendy Reuer / The Forum

WEST FARGO — As the West Fargo School District prepares to consider boundary changes that will send some elementary school students to Heritage Middle School and Horace High School instead of Liberty Middle School and Sheyenne High School, some parents are concerned it will affect the opportunities available to their children.

The West Fargo School District's third middle school, Heritage Middle School, opened in Horace in 2020, and Horace High School opened in fall 2021 with only ninth and tenth grade students.

The district recently released an informational video that showed potential boundary changes that would impact Aurora Elementary School, Osgood Elementary School and the new school planned for the Rocking Horse Farm neighborhood of Fargo.

Superintendent Beth Slette said boundary changes are needed now because while the district has been planning on about 300 to 400 new students each year for nearly a decade, the district grew by 600 new students this school year. Most of those students are moving into the neighborhoods south of Interstate 94. This has caused crowding at Freedom and Independence elementary schools as well as Liberty Middle School and Sheyenne High School.

"The problem we are trying to avoid is, in 2026, having 1,800 students at Sheyenne High School," Slette said.

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The West Fargo School District includes not only the cities of West Fargo, Horace and Harwood, but also parts of Fargo, rural Cass County and Reile's Acres.

A map shows the proposed boundary adjustments within the West Fargo School District
Troy Becker / The Forum

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, district officials held an informal question and answer session with about 75 parents at Aurora Elementary School in advance of the proposed boundary changes being brought to the school board during its Jan. 24 meeting. Attendees were asked to write their questions down on index cards, which were then collected by district staff and answered collectively by officials during the forum.

"Our northside feeder systems are anticipated to stay steady all the way through the next five years," Slette said. She added the schools north of I-94 are also full, including West Fargo High School and Cheney Middle School, which are at capacity.

"What we don't want to do is have anybody driving by a school to get to the next school," said Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Rachael Agre.

She said most of the schools in the Sheyenne feeder system have boundaries right up against Sheyenne and Liberty.

A woman holds a microphone as she speaks in a gymnasium
Rachel Agre, elementary assistant superintendent at West Fargo Public Schools, speaks at a public input meeting Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, about proposed boundary changes involving Horace and Sheyenne high schools while Superintendent Beth Slette looks on.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY

However, Aurora, Osgood and the planned new elementary school that will be in the Rocking Horse Farm neighborhood of Fargo have boundaries that are adjacent to the Horace High School boundaries. It would cause about 70 students per grade level to transfer to the Horace High School feeder system.

District consultant group RSP predicts the district will have a total of about 13,287 students in grades K-12 by the 2025-26 school year. The district became the state's second-largest district in fall 2020 when it counted 11,728 students enrolled in preschool through 12th grade and surpassed Fargo's 11,335 enrolled students on the first day of school.

Parents will have the opportunity to ask for their children to remain in the Sheyenne High School feeder system. They must apply for the transfer between Jan. 24 and Feb. 1.

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If the transfer is allowed, however, families are responsible for their own transportation to and from schools.

A parent who is also a teacher at West Fargo High School said at Tuesday's meeting it would make more sense if Osgood and Rocking Horse Farm schools would be sent to Horace rather than Aurora. He said his family has already adjusted to becoming Mustangs when they expected to be Packers.

"It is frustrating to me," the parent said.

Another parent pointed out that their younger children expect to be Mustangs like their older siblings, not Hawks as Horace High School students.

"We're trying to build a community with West Fargo Schools, and we can't because we don't have any identity with high school," the parent said.

Officials assured parents that the same types of activities and sports will be available at Horace High School. While all the schools have the same opportunities, students at Horace High School or Heritage Middle School may have the opportunity to join some activities that are not offered at West Fargo or Sheyenne, such as trap shooting.

Some parents said athletics are important to West Fargo families and, because Horace High School is smaller, it would be unfair to students in Horace.

Slette pointed out that the smaller schools can sometimes offer more opportunities to athletes because not as many students have to compete to get on varsity teams.

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Horace High School teams will also be co-oping with Sheyenne teams for sports that do not have enough students participating.

"Remember, Sheyenne was in this same spot not 10 years ago," said Pam Cronin, the former principal of Sheyenne High School who is now principal of Horace High School. "Now we have very competitive teams."

Some parents asked about their children being able to walk to school as they currently can at Liberty Middle School or Sheyenne High School. They raised concerns about the streets surrounding Heritage and Horace High School not being safe for students to walk or drive.

"After being notified that our girls would have to go to Horace, (it) is the first time I have ever visited the area to see actually see where are these schools, where are we going," said West Fargo parent Sean Kasson.

Cronin said all three high schools offer the same curriculum. She added the class sizes would also be roughly the same at the Horace middle and high schools as they are at other schools in West Fargo Public Schools.

"There's going to be hardships no matter what is selected; I just hope this is the best selection," Kasson said.

The West Fargo School Board will decide on the boundary changes at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, at the Leidel Education Center, 207 Main W., West Fargo. Community members are allowed to speak regarding a topic that is on the board's agenda during regular meetings, but they must sign up beforehand. Comments are limited to 3 minutes per speaker.

The district's informational video about the proposed changes can be found on the district's Facebook page.

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