Williston community, school superintendent discuss reconfiguration of ASB Innovation Academy, Middle School

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 5:46 PM CST
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WILLISTON, N.D. (KUMV) - Williston’s schools are facing an overcrowding crisis with no immediate solution. Superintendent Richard Faidley has an idea for a temporary solution but not everyone is on board.

Starting next year, Faidley wants the elementary schools and Missouri Ridge to educate grades K-4; the Middle School, Bakken Elementary, and ASB Innovation Academy will provide classrooms for grades 5-8; and the High School for grades 9-12. Specifically, the Innovation Academy would be for 5th grade, Williston Middle School for 6th grade, and Bakken Elementary for 7th and 8th grade.

The community has two big concerns about this plan. The Innovation Academy operates under a unique “Individual Learning” environment that was publicly funded by donors. They are worried that becoming a 5th grade facility takes away its original purpose. Secondly, educators are just now hearing about how grades 5-8 are being divided. They say the decision is being rushed.

More than 100 people crowded the district office building to get details on the reconfiguration plan. Educators, parents, and even students of the Innovation Academy expressed concern for the future of that building.

“I can’t say I was particularly pleased when I heard the news. In fact, I was scared of what it would mean for my school,” said Alexis Hanson, a 7th grader at the Innovation Academy.

Faidley explained the decision was not an easy one but was necessary to deal with large class sizes in the lower grades.

“The reality that we will be facing as a community is that we will have class sizes in the high thirties,” said Faidley.

Some with experience in those lower grades said finding a way to reduce some of those numbers is necessary.

“I know this is rough to hear but those kindergarteners can’t be in thirty-plus class sizes. It’s not doable,” said Lisa Newson, former kindergarten paraprofessional.

Educators at the academy also worry that the unique environment poses challenges.

“I’m currently teaching at ASB in one of the breakout rooms that would be a self-contained 5th grade classroom. Do you really think that is the best option for our teachers and our students shoving them in a room that small for a temporary fix,” asked Madison Mehlhoff, Innovation Academy teacher.

Faidley told them this plan is the best answer until a bond can be passed. This discussion will continue Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Bakken Auditorium.

Faidley said he hopes to have everything finalized by April 15. He said he believes that will give teachers enough time to prepare for next year.