Billings – For the second year in a row, Billings West High School has the highest enrollment in Montana. Billings Senior and Billings Skyview followed in second and third, raising doubts about the construction of a fourth public secondary school in town.
This year, West High will have nearly 2,300 students. According to the Billings Public Schools report, the school’s functional capacity is just 1,731, which means classrooms around the school are fuller than educators would like.
Year five principal Kelly Hornby said the differences were stark, particularly in the number of students per class.
“Normally I think the school hovers around 1,700, which seems like a decent size for this school. Right now we’re sitting at 2,300,” Hornby said. put only a limited number of students in one class.Then you hurt the students.
West High School isn’t the only school pushing its building capacity numbers. The high school currently has 1,753 students enrolled and has a functional capacity of 1,686.
Skyview is the only high school in Billings with a functional capacity of less than 1,684 students, and its student body numbers only 1,632 students.
Overcrowding in Montana high schools is a common problem. Kalispell Flathead was the largest school in 2006, but once Glacier High was built citywide, enrollment at Flathead dwindled.
Most recently, Bozeman High School was the largest school in Montana until Gallatin High School joined the community in 2020.
Even with the constant growth in the Billings area, school superintendent Greg Upham said district officials would not yet begin work on a new school.
“We don’t have enough students to build a new school. The question is asked: ‘Are we going to build a new high school? “We’re not at that time,” Upham said.
Upham said the school board is actively working to realign existing district lines.
“We are adjusting the existing boundaries, and that’s what the district should be doing. Like I said, every three to five years,” Upham said.
For a West High School District parent like Brian Bentley, the big school didn’t rob his child of the student experience.
“Because of the sheer volume, people are always concerned about the experience. Education, grades, GPA, test scores, we haven’t had a negative experience,” Bentley said.
Ultimately, the general consensus seems to be that the only way to keep Billings’ school population balanced is with a fourth high school.
“Decoupage is a patchwork. We’re buying time, but I think ultimately we’ll have to build something out west between here and Laurel,” Bentley said.
For now, setting the current limits is Upham’s focus. Any changes will be made for the benefit of the students.
“It’s about making sure we’re fair when it comes to schools so we can always provide better service,” Upham said.
As for West High, Principal Hornby is confident his staff will continue to do their best with the numbers available.
“There’s not a single person in this building who doesn’t put students first,” Hornby said. “We’re going to put a lot of kids in the classroom and the teachers are going to step in and provide the best education with the tools they have.”