Westpointe Elementary, which shares a campus with sister school MetroWest Elementary, opened its doors for the new school year on Aug. 14.
| 12:22 p.m. August 15, 2017
When MetroWest Elementary’s nearly 1,600 students went back to school next week, they all headed back to the same campus they know and love.
But, half of them aren’t MetroWest Orcas anymore. Instead, they are Westpointe Dolphins.
Westpointe Elementary is one the newest elementary schools in West Orange, and it shares a campus with MetroWest Elementary. The new school was built to relieve the inflated student capacity at MetroWest, which ballooned to an enrollment of 1,585 students during the 2016-17 school year, making it one of the largest elementary schools in the county.
The sister schools share a campus because of issues with scarcity of suitable land. Orange County schools require a minimum acreage, depending on whether the school is for elementary-, middle- or high school-age students. Orange County Public Schools officials said they considered a number of locations for Westpointe but decided the existing MetroWest campus was the best option because it was in the target zone.
Officials added that it allowed easy walkability and access for the students who would attend, and the land already was owned by OCPS and included sufficient acreage for a second school.
MetroWest Elementary’s zoning area has been split nearly in half, shifting half the students to Westpointe and thus relieving the overcrowding issue while keeping students on the same campus.
Adding to the familiarity is Westpointe’s principal, Patricia G. Smith, who previously served as principal at MetroWest. She served at the helm of the school from 2000 until 2014, when she retired. But when she received the call asking if she would consider coming back to open Westpointe, it was an opportunity she couldn’t resist.
“I’d been such a part of the community (previously), and I loved MetroWest,” Smith said. “MetroWest was one of the largest elementary schools in the district. At the time, it was larger than the middle schools we fed into. … It was a big school and maintained an ‘A’ for 13 years in a row.”
MetroWest and Westpointe are sharing the same campus, but they are two autonomous schools. Westpointe acquired some of the buildings that previously belonged to its sister school, and only one building is brand-new construction. Both schools will have the same students as before, as well as many of the staff members.
“All in all, we’re the same community, the same school, and we occupy the same campus,” Smith said.
Westpointe’s campus consists of six buildings — five of which belonged to MetroWest’s campus — totaling 90,000 square feet. The new building houses the kindergarten and third-grade classrooms, as well as administration, the cafeteria and the media center.
“We plan to share resources and even personnel because we can walk to each campus,” Smith said. “We’re just excited. Our staff and PTAs will be working together, and our teachers are very excited. We just have a lot of things planned.”
Smith’s goal is to ensure success for all students and to get both schools up to an “A” grade. As master principal for both campuses, Smith said she and staff will work to offer the same programs at each school and work together to ensure their systems are successful.
Additionally, Westpointe is equipped with interactive touch-panel SMART televisions in each classroom, audio enhancement so teachers can be heard without raising their voices and campus-wide WiFi. A CCTV studio in the media center will allow students to learn video-production skills and have a morning-announcements program. MetroWest also will be receiving many of the same technological enhancements.
A SMALLER SCALE
To help alleviate congestion around the area, MetroWest Elementary will start 30 minutes earlier than Westpointe. Each school will have its own separate PTA, as well as some separate and some shared events.
“It’s just like coming home again. I know the community, I know the families, I know lots of the children who were here.” — Patricia G. Smith, Westpointe Elementary principal
“I think the biggest change is that we can do things on a smaller scale,” Smith said. “When we had events at our school, it was always having to find parking for everybody, its was just difficult to plan for everybody. Now, we are doing the same things but can offer at different times so we don’t have the traffic issue.
“That was our biggest problem at MetroWest — we were just so large, and when parents would drop off their children it would cause a lot of problems in our MetroWest community, as well, because people are trying to go to work while people trying to drop off their kids,” Smith said. “The school was just too big.”
Now that the sister schools are better equipped to accommodate the large number of students, Smith is excited to be back and to have a part in helping both schools through the transition.