- January 6, 2019
As Horizon West continues on its rapid path of growth and development, three new schools are on their way this fall to relieve numbers from the current elementary and middle schools in the area.
Hamlin Elementary will relieve Water Spring and Whispering Oak elementaries; Panther Lake Elementary will relieve Castleview, Summerlake and Water Spring elementary schools; and Hamlin Middle School will relieve Bridgewater, Horizon West and SunRidge middle schools.
However, as was the case when schools such as Windermere High and Horizon West Middle opened in recent years, relief also comes with a price — notably a change in teaching personnel and available classes. At a recent School Advisory Committee meeting, Bridgewater Middle officials discussed some of the changes that would be taking place.
About 500 students will be rezoned — which also means a reduction in staff, as well as some changes to electives offered. The staff reduction is a necessary result of a reduction of the student body. The operating budget has been reduced by more than $2.6 million. In addition, the school has a funding deficit of $358,000 from last year that must be satisfied.
Horizon West resident Jessica Villegas has both an eighth- and a sixth-grader at Bridgewater.
“I’m very sad to see some of the funding get cut and programs disappear for the students,” she said. “They have worked so hard, and this school is well-known for (its) curriculum. I am however hopeful that the traffic lessens, making it safer for walkers and bike riders coming and going. I also hope that this relief can phase out some of the portables and hope to see if student behavior improves next year as bullying has also been an issue for a lot of local families.”
Villegas said she is ready to embrace the changes.
“It’s still a great school; we just have to be open and accepting to change and hopeful for the impact to be positive in the future,” she said.
Bridgewater teachers whose positions are cut now have the opportunity to apply to Hamlin Middle.
Prior to the teachers being notified, Bridgewater administration met with Dr. Suzanne Knight, the new principal for Hamlin Middle, to advocate for teachers “where appropriate.”
“This has been helpful as those teachers were able to be hired on the spot when they met with Dr. Knight,” Bridgewater officials said. “Moreover, teachers not picked up by Hamlin Middle School are being provided information about other school vacancies.”
One attendee at the SAC meeting inquired about hosting a fundraiser to keep the teachers employed, but officials explained it is not an option for them to fund staff, because all schools in OCPS are funded equitably.
“We are doing everything we are able to do to assist teachers in securing the known vacancies while they are still available,” the school’s officials stated.
The topic of electives also dominated the SAC meeting.
Bridgewater officials said all possible courses were shown on the course request form so they could see which courses students and their families wanted most. This information was then used to build the master schedule.
However, not all electives shown on the form will be available for the 2022-23 school year.
Keyboarding and guitar will both be available with an SGA course set for next year.
School officials said there are no plans to cut any of the currently available clubs.
Horizon West resident Stephanie Fernandez said her sixth-grade thespian student has had all her classes in portables, because of the school being overcrowded and is excited she soon will be in a new school.
“She was sad to hear that her theater teacher was not asked back next year,” Fernandez said. “She is excited that the new theater teacher at the new school has already reached out to her. The school is also even closer than Bridgewater.”
Horizon West resident Andrea Pointon said she has one student currently at Bridgewater in sixth grade being rezoned for next year.
She said it is her understanding the new school will allow students, both from Bridgewater and the new school, to have a more enjoyable and less-crowded school environment.
“I do also believe that changes will come, but I have only had good experiences with the schools, and I am confident that the responsible parties will ensure proper balance between professionals and teachers to provide a great educational experience to the kids,” Pointon said. “Improvements are always needed, and if we as parents also focus on assisting and understanding their needs and struggles versus focusing on what we don’t have, we may, as a group, have a better result, and we would be leading our kids by example.”