With Windermere High School set to open its doors this August, shaping tradition and Wolverine pride is on the agenda as a community effort.
| 5:30 p.m. January 5, 2017
HORIZON WEST When the 2017-18 school year begins in August, students at Windermere High School will have an extra assignment waiting for them — to help shape school traditions and build Wolverine pride.
Physically building a brand-new school from the ground up is one thing; molding school spirit and student traditions is the challenge administrators and students will have to step up to the plate for.
The 65-acre property is situated along County Road 535 with Summerport Village just west of it across the street, and getting school walls up had been hard fought for by community members, parents and county officials.
Although it has an official student capacity of 2,776, Windermere High won’t have any seniors in attendance its first year. Statistics from Orange County Public Schools project the opening enrollment at just more than 1,800.
After a few months of input from the community and future students OCPS officially named the school Windermere High in October 2016, giving it the wolverine mascot and the Seattle Seahawks team colors — navy, bright green and silver.
The project reached 40% completion shortly after in November 2016, and the first logos and graphics and spirit wear were released in early December.
With the school officially opening its doors to students for the first time eight months from now, the first half of 2017 for the Wolverines is going to be centered on getting students registered, oriented and involved in the process of building school spirit.
Most involved can agree on one thing regarding school tradition — it starts with the students.
PTSO AND COMMUNITY
Although official Windermere High PTSO elections won’t take place until the spring, community members and parents have already formed an organizational committee and provisional board, complete with the first volunteers and committees.
Marci Sgattoni is the interim president for the organization. As a parent of a current sophomore at West Orange High who will transfer to Windermere High this year, Sgattoni is excited to be directly involved in the process.
“It’s definitely exciting for him (my son). As Mr. Guthrie and the staff is letting us know about the new programs they’re starting, he’s really bringing in some new classes and electives so that part is exciting,” Sgattoni said. “Just being able to be a part of forming new things (is exciting) — my son is in the band, so he’ll be a junior and will have an opportunity to be a leader and help trailblaze the way for the band.”
This is her first go-around with helping open a brand-new school, but she was in the same boat as some of West Orange High’s current students when she was a high-schooler.
“We had a high school that merged together (from three schools). In ninth grade I was in one school and then all three schools merged and I was part of voting for the mascot and colors and things,” she said. “It was interesting that I got to help in that and picking uniforms as a 15- or 16-year-old. Getting to have a say in things as it starts is pretty neat. They (students) get to be part of the process and I think that’s what’s most exciting.”
But the first step in building tradition, Sgattoni said, is building community and creating school pride. The group ordered and starting selling its first round of spirit wear and car magnets in mid-December to get the logo out into the community.
“We want the logo out there, we want it on cars and we want the community to know that this is our school,” she said. “We have parents and eighth-graders that can’t wait for their kids to go to the school. People can start identifying with each other in the community when they drive around and see those magnets or other people wearing those T-shirts. The kids are coming along and if the parents are invested then hopefully the kids will be too.”
Another key to building spirit is to keep some of the old, beloved traditions alive, but to blend it with the new. Sgattoni cited the tradition of seniors painting their parking spots as one that many students look forward to.
Over the next few months the PTSO and volunteers will go out into the community to speak with local businesses and organizations about supporting Windermere High and its incoming students. Anyone interested in getting involved and helping the PTSO can sign up and join a committee.
“Anytime you show up to a PTSO meeting those people are motivated. They want to come and want things to do,” Sgattoni said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest. It’s all new and getting to be a part of decision-making and deciding what the school will look like when it’s open.”
For Principal Doug Guthrie and Vice Principal Lyle Heinz, the main focus thus far has been defining a curriculum, determining course selection, beginning the hiring process and tying together loose ends as they’re completed.
Looking ahead, though, their first move will be to find sponsors to lead the chorus, band, student government association and more. These sponsors, Guthrie said, will be the key people to lead the students.
“Chorus and band will write the alma mater and the fight song, and the sooner we can name those people the sooner we can get started,” Guthrie said. “SGA will establish student-life traditions. Sponsors will start meeting with students, talking about what they’d like to see as a tradition and start setting those activities up. Then it’s advertising those activities to students. That’s where a lot of this will come from — what’s the fight song, what movement goes with it, what cheer fits?”
Current OCPS students begin the registration process at the end of the month and through February, and learning to identify with the new school will be the first step for them.
“You get a love and tie to the school where you start, but I think a lot of the students we talk to are excited about coming to Windermere,” Guthrie said.
Heinz agreed, adding that many high-school traditions are created by the students and it’s the school’s plan to create a culture that fosters and encourages student input and participation. He wants his students to love and feel a part of WHS.
“Studies show if students are actively involved in their school then they do better. We are not graduates of Windermere High, and the alumni need to set those traditions,” Heinz said. “Those first students there can kind of set those traditions and have at least two years to get them rolling before we have a graduating class.”
As the first leaders of WHS, Guthrie and Heinz have to lay the foundation for everyone else to walk across. Guthrie likened it to crossing a frozen pond, ensuring that each step is secure and “no one is going to throw a ball in the ice.”
“For me (the most exciting part) is crating something new and allowing all of those avenues to be open,” Heinz said. “Now we get to pick the theories we think are the best for our students to have a positive, successful experience and create the culture.”