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More babies means more students in N.D.

When the tallies are official, North Dakota is expected to gain at least 1,000 K-12 students from a year ago, with Williston and West Fargo leading the charge.

Northeaster North Dakota K-12 enrollment

When the tallies are official, North Dakota is expected to gain at least 1,000 K-12 students from a year ago, with Williston and West Fargo leading the charge.

But part of the reason for that anticipated 1,000-plus increase is that small, rural schools are holding their own -- or even better, in some cases.

Williston has added 240 students -- a 10 percent hike -- over last year's first-day total. West Fargo added 280 students, a 4 percent increase.

Both increases are easily explainable. Williston is in the middle of the booming Oil Patch. West Fargo has benefited from a housing boom and being the bedroom community for Fargo and its job growth.

While those booming cities grab the headlines, some smaller schools also have contributed. One of them is North Star, a fourth-year merger of the Cando and Bisbee-Egeland schools.


North Star's first-day enrollment was 267 -- 21 more students than a year ago. The increase was in sharp contrast to many years of decline. Cando had 361 students back in 1995, when it was by itself. Enrollment eroded to below 200 before it combined with Bisbee-Egeland.

But this year's enrollment figures in the northeast corner of the state suggest, at the least, that the bleeding has been slowed.

"Our enrollment has been steady for these last four years," North Star Superintendent Mark Lindahl said. "We've stayed in good shape and we anticipate that we'll stay the course we're at right now."

North Star picked up five students this year from Rock Lake School closing and had several families move to town because of jobs, Lindahl said. However, next year's kindergarten class is expected to be larger than this year's senior class, providing evidence to a statewide reason offered by Jerry Coleman of North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction.

North Dakota birth rates have been increasing statewide since 2001. "And now those children are moving into the lower grades," Coleman said.

"First, we had the baby boom. Then we had an echo from the boom. Now we're seeing a secondary echo with more people in their prime child-bearing years. It makes for a natural uptick in births."

Grand Forks and Grafton are among schools reporting a surprisingly sharp hike in kindergarteners, offering anecdotal evidence to the theory. In the northeast quarter, total school enrollment basically stayed the same (see chart), with most schools showing slight fluctuations.

"I see the state's student enrollment stable or increasing over the next 5-10 years," Coleman said. "How much we increase will be based on economic activity, which is the big unknown. But, because of the birth rate, I see it slowly increasing."


The four major cities and western North Dakota -- if the oil boom continues -- will see most of that enrollment climb. Meanwhile, northeast corner enrollment "should be pretty flat," which would be an improvement over the steady decline of the last 20 years.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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