Schools help maintain a steady flow of workers to the Williston region's workforce.
At the heart of Williston’s economic development successes is the steady stream of homegrown talent to the region’s high-demand industries, thanks mainly to the work of the Williston Basin School District #7 (WBSD#7).
The district is the result of a 2021 merger of Williston Public School District #1 and New Public School District #8. The merger of the two school districts allowed the school system to expand services, particularly in career and technical education (CTE).
For example, in 2022, the school district was awarded a $10 million grant by the North Dakota Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Fund to help finance the Williston Basin Career and Technical Education Center. The center will house the CTE courses currently at Williston High School. In addition, the high school itself recently underwent a $60 million expansion to account for the increased student population after the merger.
The new Career and Technical Education Center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2024, will serve the students in WBSD#7 and the surrounding areas. The center will allow students in school districts across the region to take CTE courses and receive credentials in career pathways, such as agriculture, construction technology and petroleum technology — all industries in which jobs are in high demand.
“This is the first of many good things I see our newly unified district bringing to the community,” says interim Superintendent Lori Olson. “We want the community to know that we will be working hard to enhance and provide opportunities for Williston students and surrounding area students in CTE.”
She says that partnerships with industry, Williston State College, TrainND other regional CTE centers and the Great Northwest Education Cooperative will be developed and fostered to serve schools and students in the northwest area.
Learning by Doing
The school system begins career exploration even before high school. The ASB Innovation Academy, which serves grades 6-8, opened in the fall of 2020 to incorporate more experiential learning into the curriculum.
“The Innovation Academy empowers our students to have a voice in their learning opportunities through real-world experience and application,” says Audra Zimmerman, principal ASB Innovation Academy.
“We provide courses that educate and prepare students with skills to meet the needs of our current local businesses to help provide a sustainable economic environment.”
The academy focuses lessons on student-centered learning. While it follows the same curriculum as other schools in the district, it offers different learning avenues to allow students to be challenged or accommodate their specific needs.
“Our educators use the design thinking process in a progressive framework to create critical thinkers who can adapt to any learning situation at the next level of education,” Zimmerman says. “Through some of our innovative courses, our students are able to explore real-world opportunities to help drive their academic pathway when they enter high school.”
Students work on semester-long projects designed to solve a community problem. In addition, the school partners with business leaders to introduce students to local careers aligned with the problems they are working to solve.
“Our school was built by our community members, and we pride ourselves on giving back whenever we are able to,” Zimmerman says. “Through our exploration courses, our students are experiencing the actual reality of career pathways that are available in our community.”
For example, the class partners with businesses and volunteer groups through Connections: Classroom to Community to make a difference for others. In addition, students spearhead community engagements, finding ways to help various groups by donating time and items or raising money for other charities.
Zimmerman says the school also works with Williston High School counselors to host virtual job shadowing to prepare students for the high school’s career pathways.
“Virtual job shadow empowers students to discover different career options based on their interests and choices,” she says. “We start this process in grade 6 and work with the counselors at the high school to develop a pathway based on their career clusters by the time they transition to the high school.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Williston area, check out the latest edition of Livability Williston, North Dakota.