FORECAST: The West Orange private school experience

Private schools in the West Orange area have turned their attention to the new year with plans to expand campuses and programs.

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  • | 4:30 p.m. January 9, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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A new year means plenty of change on the horizon for West Orange County’s private schools. Many residents move to the area to give their children an education within Orange County Public Schools, but there also are many families that prefer something different — whether it’s a faith-based education or being part of a global campus. From constructions plans to exciting new programs, local private schools have plenty of plans for 2020.


One of the most significant changes on the horizon for the faith-based The First Academy will be the opening of a new dining space called Gather. 

“It’s basically going to be a brand-new cafeteria setting for the students that will also be a hub of the campus for parent meetings, student meetings, fellowship with one another — a great central spot for people to gather and have community on campus,” said Sarah Donovan, senior director of advancement and parent relations at The First Academy.

Gather, which will have an indoor and outdoor space, has been almost completely funded after six weeks and tentatively will open in August. The building will be located in the center of campus between the upper school and Natalie Thomas Gym. 


“We’re a development school, which means that we build our campus through givings and we had a goal of $600,000 and we’re almost to that goal,” Donovan said. “We’ve got really strong-hearted families that want to give and want to see the campus continue to grow.”

Historically, students have dined at First Baptist Orlando on campus, but recently the school transitioned to having students eat in the gymnasium. 

“Now, the gym will go back to being a true athletic facility again, and this will be able to phase into a dining space for the students,” Donovan said.

A new strategic plan also is set to be unveiled in summer 2020.

“(There are) some really big, not only campus additions, but program additions for The First Academy,” Donovan said. “Look for things to come with the strategic plan, because it will unveil a lot of what we’ll be doing, how we’ll be growing the campus and our program offerings of the next five to 10 years.

“Our head of school has met with over 200 representatives and he continues to meet with them, so students, parents, alumni, teachers, staff — that strategic plan is a compilation of all of their feedback,” she said. “There’s a strong vision for 2020 and beyond as we begin this new decade.”



Families at Foundation Academy can expect construction in the near future — specifically at the Upper School campus for seventh through 12th grades.


The school is heading toward expansion with a 17,000-square-foot classroom addition that will have two science rooms, a band/drama room and eight classrooms. There also will be a weight room added to the gymnasium. It’s an expansion meant to meet the needs of the growing number of students on the campus. The school has seen increases of at least 5% over the past four years, including an increase of 9% this year, said Michelle Campbell, director of enrollment at Foundation Academy.

The design phase of the new classroom building and weight room has been taking place over the last 18 months, with construction likely starting in the summer, Dave Buckles, school president, said.

“We’ve entered into a time where we are in for permitting for building expansion and master plan work — we’re just trying to prepare for what the future brings,” Buckles said.

Foundation Academy also has future plans to construct a new cafeteria that will seat up to 400 students. Preliminary drawings are done, but the school hasn’t submitted for permits.

“It’s something we’d like to get started — leadership is just determining the best time to get started with that project,” Buckles said.

Carol Grosshans, vice president of education at Foundation Academy, said the school is looking to provide some new entrepreneurship and career-readiness courses.

There’s more planned for Foundation Academy’s Lower School campus on Plant Street, as well.

Grosshans said leadership is considering expanding after school programs, including a cooking class that doesn’t require stoves. 

At Foundation’s Lakeside campus, which started kindergarten this school year, first grade will be added later in 2020.

“That’s been kind of exciting to see the progression of that — very excited families and interest out there to continue that program,” Grosshans said. “Down the road we’re hoping to have more of those satellite schools that will feed in to our campus here for seventh through 12th grade.”




The year 2020 marks the 20th year of Windermere Preparatory School — a school that is continuing to grow its programs to meet the needs of its students.

“Windermere Prep is at a pretty exciting phase of its growth,” said Steven Lyng, head of school at Windermere Prep. “We’re planning through 2020 to have a variety of 20-year celebrations and recognitions.”

Lyng said the student enrollment today sits at about 1,535 students, but the ultimate goal is to soon reach the 1,600 student mark.

“At that point, we will be done enrolling students beyond that number, so as a school we’re coming into our final configuration,” Lyng said.

One of Windermere Prep’s priorities moving forward is to continue to expand the collaborations currently in place with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Juilliard School and UNICEF. Students have the chance to learn from and communicate with experts, professionals and global change makers through Skype sessions, projects and more.

“From a program perspective, I think our school has reached a certain level of maturity,” Lyng said. “Where we’re actually seeing the most growth and expansion is with these collaborations.” 

Lyng added that Windermere Prep also hopes to expand new additions to the school, including the makers classes offered to middle school students and the computer science and robotics program for the high school students.

“We remain committed to the International Baccalaureate diploma program as the centerpiece for our high school curriculum, but by the same token we have built a lab program in our Lower School, which is new this year,” he said. “That encompasses a maker space and robotics lab.”

“I think the exciting thing that is really happening is — as these programs take root within our school, including the STEAM and robotics at multiple levels — we’re empowering student agency and we are empowering our curriculum to be more student-led and student-driven,” Tiffany Alrefae, assistant head of school at Windermere Prep. “In a world that’s very test-driven, we know the value of these programs and how it will be the advantage for our students both in college and beyond.”


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