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As the population grows, a Sheridan County school district is having to turn more students away

Sheridan County School District #1 seal
Sheridan County School District #1

As the population of Sheridan County grows, officials with Sheridan County School District #1 have had to turn away more out-of-district students as their own student numbers increase. The district’s two major school facilities are those in Big Horn and the Tongue River schools in Dayton and Ranchester.

Pete Kilbride, superintendent of SCSD #1, said a main reason for this is the increased population that is happening in the Big Horn, Powder Horn subdivision and Tongue River Valley areas of Sheridan County.

The district’s enrollment sits at approximately 1,150 students, which includes about 150 Cowboy State Virtual Academy students from around the state. In the 1990’s, the population was pretty steady in the mid 900s but Kilbride said in the last four to five years it’s really increased.

“We hadn't hit 1,000 brick and mortar kids until my first year as superintendent, which was four and a half years ago,” Kilbride said.

Most of the students that SCSD #1 has had to turn away reside within the boundaries of Sheridan County School District #2, which serves the city of Sheridan.

SCSD #1 is also home to a population of Apostolic Lutherans, a religious group whose members often have up to ten children per family. Many of the men work in contracting or the trades, which has led more of them to attend the Tongue River schools as the demand for their services building housing increases there.

There are several reasons why students may attend school in another school district other than their own. These include smaller class sizes, additional athletic or extracurricular activity options that their district may not have, conflicts within their home district, or having parents, family, or friends that attend school in another district. When Kilbride arrived in 2006, around half of the students at Big Horn Elementary School were from out of district. Big Horn High School has more capacity than the elementary does. Around 25 students were turned away this school year, which is about double what it’s been in the past, he said.

“Depending on which side of the highway you live, you're in district one or district two, and so you have kids that have played together growing up and want to stay together,” he said. “Sometimes they'll make that choice. A lot of our out of district kids on the Big Horn side, our kids have parents who work for us. A lot of our teachers end up living in Sheridan and so they're actually [in] Sheridan two where they pay their taxes, but they want their kids to come where they work.”

The way the school district system is currently set up is that each district receives funding for how many students they have in their respective district as well as for their school facilities.

“It's never been about the money, we don't go, ‘Hey, let's get all the kids we can [to] come in.’ We want to make sure that we can serve them well,” Kilbride added. “Sometimes that’s saying no, because we don't feel like we have the adequate services for them and we'll just say that it's not going to work, it won't be a good fit.”

So far, there isn’t a need to expand or construct new school facilities. However, things could become a bit cramped if the growth trend continues, especially for the Tongue River schools, who currently have a large middle school student population.

“If we had to, we could perhaps make a kindergarten, first grade down at the Learning Center [community center], and then second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, perhaps at the elementary and make it a seventh in eighth grade middle school, or you might go the other direction, and go eighth grade at the Learning Center and make it a five, six, seven middle school,” he said. “So, that's the building that concerns me the most, but fortunately, we still have another facility that could handle some of it.”

Even as the population continues to grow, Kilbride is appreciative of the relationship between the two districts, which are both highly ranked among the state’s schools.

“I'm thankful that we have two great districts that neighbor each other that have different things to offer, and we allow that fluidity to happen,” he said.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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