Horizon High School, Lake Buena Vista High School and Water Spring Middle School all will open their doors this fall and relieve the community’s most-crowded public schools.
Eleven years ago, Orange County Public Schools achieved a feat when it opened East River High, Lake Nona High and Lake Nona Middle schools simultaneously.
This fall, the district is set to repeat history with three new schools in Horizon West and Southwest Orange.
Horizon High, Lake Buena Vista High and Water Spring Middle schools all will open their doors to students in August. However, for the next two years, Water Spring Middle students will be in their own wing at Horizon High while their campus is constructed.
It’s the same format the district followed when Lake Nona High and Lake Nona Middle opened, said Lauren Roth, OCPS senior manager for facilities communications. The middle school had its own wing within Lake Nona High for a couple of years before its own campus was ready.
“It gave the district a chance to alleviate overcrowding for both the middle school and the high school at the same time by doing something like this,” Roth said of the strategy. “It allows Horizon High School to get completed and opened, but it also allows for the middle schools to get relief two years sooner than they normally would have.”
What’s more, the opening of all three schools means relief for the district’s most overcrowded schools.
According to enrollment statistics from Dec. 16, 2020, Freedom High is at nearly 136% capacity, while Dr. Phillips High is around 128% capacity. Windermere High is at 152% capacity, and Bridgewater Middle sits at nearly 174% capacity.
“Those three high schools — Freedom, Dr. Phillips and Windermere — are our most overcrowded schools, and so it’s wonderful that we’re actually going to be able to relieve that,” Roth said.
HORIZON HIGH SCHOOL
Orange and purple — the school’s colors — soon will be common sights around West Orange as the Horizon Hawks form their identity.
Located at 10393 Seidel Road, Winter Garden, Horizon High is a $117.3 million project that is expected to be mostly complete by May. It sits on a 69.8-acre site and has a gross floor area of 372,493 square feet. It will relieve Windermere High, which opened in 2017 and reached capacity the next year.
Designed by SchenkelShultz and constructed by Wharton-Smith, it is one of the district’s newest prototype high schools.
“Horizon High School has all of its roofing on, and the windows are almost finished,” Roth said. “That school is at the point where they’re doing interior painting and tile work.”
Principal Laura Beusse — formerly principal at Ocoee High — said she is thrilled to be leading the Hawks in creating their own culture of success and school pride. Beusse has been involved in five other school openings across the district in her career, but this will be her first as principal.
“I’ve always just had the desire to open a new school on my own,” she said. “It’s exciting to be able to establish tradition, culture and climate in a school, and many of those things happen form the very beginning and at the direction of the leader.”
Beusse said she has been working with the community and stakeholders through surveys and focus-group meetings to develop their brand.
“The most rewarding part so far is just getting the input from the community on what they want in their school, on the ideals that they want perpetrated in their school and the culture they want to see there, and the traditions they hope will be established,” she said. “They want a sense of community and accountability, but also compassion, kindness and inclusivity.”
Beusse added that Horizon High will be applying to become a Cambridge school, which offers the Cambridge AICE Diploma. This is an international pre-university curriculum that prepares learners for honors degree programs. It lets schools offer a broad curriculum by recognizing the achievements of learners who pass examinations in subjects drawn from across the curriculum.
The school also will have a commercial culinary-arts program, Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment and career/technical education courses.
One of Horizon High’s mottos will be “Elevate your pursuit,” which pairs with the hawk mascot.
“What we want our Hawks to be able to do is elevate the pursuit, to take challenging coursework, to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities … so when the time comes for graduation, they will have elevated themselves to the point where they can pursue whatever their dreams are and pursue the opportunities that are in their path,” Beusse said.
Also on Horizon High’s campus will be a bus depot and fueling station for the southwest part of the district.
LAKE BUENA VISTA HIGH SCHOOL
When talking to incoming students, Principal Dr. Guy Swenson noticed one thing they all seem to have in common: They love their current schools.
It made sense, then, for the Lake Buena Vista Vipers to pay homage to both feeder schools through their school colors: light blue to honor Dr. Phillips High and red to honor Freedom High.
Located at 11305 Daryl Carter Parkway, Orlando, Lake Buena Vista High is a $115 million project that also is expected to be mostly complete by May. It sits on a 50-acre site and has a gross floor area of 372,295 square feet.
Designed by SchenkelShultz and constructed by Pirtle, it also is one of the district’s newest prototype high schools. As of December 2020, Roth said, the school is about halfway complete and is receiving its flooring, paint, ceiling grid and first load of asphalt.
Swenson comes to the school from Olympia High, where he had been since it opened in 2001. He was a teacher then but now is experiencing another school opening through the lens of leadership.
“I saw this as such a great challenge of, ‘So how do I stretch myself and do something new while helping the community?’” he said. “It’s exciting thinking about what you want to do differently, reflecting upon the years of being a teacher, the years of being assistant principal — and I’ve been a principal for eight years now. Upon reflection of being a leader for that long, (I thought), ‘What new thing do I really want to be able to create at this school?’”
Like Horizon High, Lake Buena Vista High also will be applying to become a Cambridge school. However, Swenson said, the Vipers also will have two academies on campus — an Alpha academy and a social-justice academy.
“(Alpha) will be for our most academically talented students to push them further,” Swenson said. “That’s going to be tied in with the Cambridge diploma … but you don’t have to be in the Alpha academy to get the Cambridge diploma. ... The classes are cohorted, so it’s kind of like a school within a school. I’m modeling it after what we already had in place at Olympia called the APEX program.”
The social-justice academy is early in its planning stages, Swenson said, but it also will follow the cohort concept in a humanities-based program. Students will be cohorted for English and social studies, and they will study those subjects through the lens of social justice.
It aligns with Swenson’s vision to foster an environment of equity and inclusivity.
“It’s just really important that the school as an institution represents and mirrors the students who are going to the school,” he said. “I am so excited that we have a name, we have an identity. I am getting the energy from the community. That area is really looking for its own identity, and a school can bring identity to a community.”
WATER SPRING MIDDLE
Although it doesn’t yet have a campus to call its own — that will open in 2023 — Water Spring Middle now has an identity and a partner in Horizon High.
For the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, students zoned for Water Spring Middle — previously known as Site 65-M-W-4 — will be temporarily housed in a separate wing at Horizon High until their own campus is built adjacent to Water Spring Elementary. Design meetings for that campus will begin in March.
Beusse also will act as principal for the Water Spring Middle students during their time at Horizon High, but they will have their own assistant principal.
“I was really excited that our district moved forward with naming the school so those students would have an identity the two years they’re on the high-school campus, because they’re not just our guest for the two years,” she said. “They’re their own school, and they will have their own identity, their own colors and their own name.”
The middle-schoolers will have their own transportation, and they will arrive at about the time third period begins for the high school. They will have their own lunch shift and stairwell, and they will use separate locker rooms for dressing out for physical-education classes.
“We’ll be able to make a lot of things happen as far as sharing the resources,” Beusse said.