District appoints principal for Bridgewater relief school

Michelle Thomas will lead the new middle school in Horizon West, which will open in the fall with a projected enrollment of 1,280.

Michelle Thomas will serve as the first principal of the middle school opening in the fall to relieve overcrowding at Bridgewater Middle.
Michelle Thomas will serve as the first principal of the middle school opening in the fall to relieve overcrowding at Bridgewater Middle.
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Parents with children zoned for the new Bridgewater Middle relief school met their new principal and were allowed one-on-one time with her at a 40% construction meeting Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Bridgewater Middle hosted the meeting in the media center, and a large crowd of families attended to meet Michelle Thomas and ask questions regarding the new school in Horizon West’s Lakeside Village. The relief school will open in August.

Thomas comes from Dillard Street Elementary School, in Winter Garden, where she served as principal for two-and-one-half years. She received her new assignment in early January.

She has been working since Jan. 23 to get her school ready in time for the 2019-20 school year.

Bridgewater Principal Andrew Jackson told parents: “There is no assistant principal, no secretary. It’s a one-man show when you build a new school. Your kids are still Bobcats for a little while longer.”

Parents appeared most concerned about the course offerings and whether they will be similar to what currently is offered at BWMS. Thomas said once the students have selected their classes this spring, she will look at their choices and plan a curriculum and schedule.

“Everything you’re getting now will transfer,” Jackson said.

Thomas said she hopes to see a great deal of involvement from the parents and the community.

“I want our parents to know that community engagement, and family involvement, are vital factors to the success of the new school,” she said. “With the support from our current Bridgewater PTO and other current community members, we are working through the fundamental processes such as naming the school, selecting a mascot and colors. This is a joint effort and I want us to continue collaborating as we move into our new building and establish new traditions.”

Thomas said she expects a smooth transition from Bridgewater to the new school.

“I have been fortunate to have known (Principal Andrew) Jackson … for several years, and we have similar educational philosophies and high expectations for all students’ success,” she said. “I want to assure our parents that their students will continue to have a principal that is invested in their overall success.”

To allow the parents and students time to become familiar with her, Thomas said she will be present regularly at the Bridgewater campus until her school is built.

“I want the transition for the students to be seamless,” she said. “I am also working closely with the feeder elementary schools and will be offering events for rising sixth-graders to help them prepare for the transition into middle school.”

She encourages families to like the school’s Facebook page, currently named “Site 37 M SW 4 OCPS,” for weekly updates and information.

Substantial completion is on track for the beginning of June, Thomas said. She expects to move into her new office by June 26 and then can start scheduling walk-throughs.

The construction budget is $38.6 million.

A naming survey is open until 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, and parents, students and community members are invited to submit a name on either the Orange County Public Schools website or through the school’s Facebook page.

Jackson said a website will be created once the school has a name.

The hiring process for teachers begins this week.

The relief school is located on 25 acres at 8200 Tattant Blvd., Windermere — south of Tattant, east of Berkshire Place Townhomes and west of Winter Garden Vineland Road.

Bay Lakes, Sunset Park and small portions of Independence and Windermere elementaries will feed into the new middle school.




Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.