petrol class 2020 CTE class at Williston High School

Students (left to right) Spencer Cook, Anthony Jafolla, and Grant Gathman look at a Bakken core sample with their teacher Gerald McGillivray in Williston High School's petroleum class, which helps students explore careers in the oil and gas industry.

Williams County has made a $5 million commitment to help solve some of the workforce issues in the Oil Patch.

Commissioners approved a motion committing the money as matching funds for a $10 million state grant that Williston Public School District 7 is pursuing for its Career and Technical Education programs.

The North Dakota Federal Coronavirus Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Grant is administered by North Dakota department of Career and Technical Education (CTE). It requires a dollar for dollar match, which means the overall grant will be $20 million.

District 7 would use the money as part of a three-year plan to build out a space accommodating 400 to 500 students. In addition to expanding CTE opportunities in the region, this would also help relieve some of the overcrowding at Williston Public School District No. 7.

The district is pursuing commitments from a variety of entities, not just Williams County. They have letters of support from CHI St. Alexius, Grayson Mills, and Knife River as well, and have reached out to surrounding school districts to talk about collaboration opportunities.

Audrey Larson, vice principal at the Williston High School, said the district’s vision is to build something with regional impact.

“One of the exciting parts about this CTE project is that it’s not just for Williston Basin School District, but it is for the Williston, Williams County area,” Larson said. “Williams, McKenzie, and Divide County areas.”

The center would have at least six and possibly more school districts working together on providing CTE services, Larson added.

“In this area, as you are aware, the school districts are far apart,” she said. “We all love COVID or hate COVID or whatever. But it has provided us with some different technologies, I think, to make those sharing of resources easier across the board. And so part of our plan along with Watford City is to create a Northwest Area CTE Center, which would include satellite locations.”

Williston would be one satellite, and Watford City another.

“Potentially other school districts would create their own satellite,” Larson said. “Brick and mortar locations.”

From there, resources could be shared virtually, or districts that are nearby could travel for in-person learning.

Williston is already offering agriculture, automotive technology, aviation, business construction, family and consumer science, health science, information technology and petroleum. Those areas would expand, including increased staff, to enable sharing resources with districts in the region.

Areas of particular emphasis for expansion would include health science, automotive and diesel, and agriculture, all of which are experiencing labor shortages.

Williston Public School District No. 7’s interim superintendent Lori Olson, meanwhile, said the district has been meeting with surrounding schools in Grenora, Crosby, Ray, and Alexander, and the district already has letters of support from them for the project.

Watford City, meanwhile, is writing its own grant, but the two districts expect to communicate and complement each other. By buying different equipment, resources can be shared and opportunities for the region expanded.

There have also been conversations with Williston State College as well, to set up cooperative arrangements that would bring in classes to accelerate students out of high school and into the workforce.

Williams County Commission Chairman Steve Kemp praised the idea behind expanding CTE projects. A homegrown workforce can eventually help solve North Dakota’s labor force problem.

“The North Dakota Department of Commerce speaks a lot to the fact that they’ve got well over $25 billion in new projects coming to the state of North Dakota right now and one of our biggest challenges is workforce,” he said. “And so this is a great project to start helping to address this so our students as they come out of high school are ready to jump into the into their work field.”

Commissioner David Montgomery made a motion to commit $5 million to the project.

“I’m going to make (that) motion because it’s benefitting not only the kids of Williston and the kids of Williams County, and the businesses in the future,” he said.

Cory Hanson seconded the motion, and the roll call in favor of the commitment was unanimous.

Commissioners also:

• Approved a transfer of lease to Jenny Gergen for the Courthouse Cafe. That lease is up Dec. 2022, after which it will be renegotiated.

• Moved the date for reorganization of the board to January, and discussed other changes to the calendar for 2022.

• Discussed information requested by the North Dakota Department of Transportation for future highway improvements needed in the Trenton area, in light of the Cerilon GTL plant that is locating there.

• Approved filling two open positions, one for an equipment operator at the County Highway Department and the other for a corrections officer at the Sheriff’s Office.

• Appointed Cory Hanson to a stakeholder advisory committee for the Williston Basin International Airport.

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