ORLANDO, Fla. – As families pour into Florida, four new schools opened for hundreds of Orange County students just in time for the first-class bell this fall.
[Scroll down to see if your Orange County school is overcrowded]
Orange County Public Schools opened two new high schools, one new elementary school and relocated and rebuilt Silver Pines Academy, an exceptional student education center.
OCPS also opened one middle school, Water Spring, two years ahead of schedule. Water Spring does not yet have its own campus, and for the next two years will operate inside one of the new high schools: Horizon High.
Despite the recent incoming of new residents, each school has been years in the making.
“The district plans ten years ahead at a time, and we could see the pace of growth that was coming here,” said Lauren Roth, a spokeswoman for Orange County Public Schools. “We have an Advanced Planning Committee, and they predict where we are going to need new schools.”
However, as Roth told News 6, these planners do not just “set it and forget it.”
“They look at [the plan] every year and revise it, depending on birth rates, the rates that people are moving in and the rates of actual enrollment,” she said.
For example, in 2022, Orange County plans to open three elementary schools, one K-8 school and one middle school. Officials tell News 6 they are seeing the most growth in the Horizon West, Lake Nona and Apopka areas of the county.
August 2021 also marks the first time in more than a decade that OCPS officials have opened two high schools in the same season: Horizon High and Lake Buena Vista High.
The simultaneous timing is happening, in part, because of overcrowding.
For example, Horizon High will immediately help overcrowding at nearby Windermere High, just six miles up the road.
Windermere High was built just four years ago, and already is at 154% capacity, according to May 2020 enrollment data, the most recent numbers available from OCPS.
When it comes to overcrowded campuses, News 6 investigators found Windermere High is not alone.
Those same enrollment numbers show 23 schools are at 120% capacity or higher.
But the new schools, like Horizon High, will help some of the county’s most desperate schools in need of relief.
In addition to Horizon High, Lake Buena Vista High will relieve both Dr. Phillips High’s 129% capacity and Freedom High’s 134% capacity.
Village Park Elementary will relieve Eagle Creek Elementary’s 129% capacity and Laureate Park Elementary’s 124% capacity.
Water Spring Middle, which opened without an official campus, but two years ahead of schedule, will relieve Sunridge Middle’s 121% capacity problems, as well as the most overcrowded school in the district: Bridgewater Middle, a school which showed enrollment of nearly double the amount of students the campus is supposed to handle.
On Bridgewater Middle’s first day of school, News 6 asked parents if they noticed less crowding.
“It was a lot easier to get through the lines today,” one parent said.
“This is much better,” said another.
Even the crossing guard, known to the kids as Mrs. CC, chimed in.
“I have been here a couple years. This was the most crowded middle school, so I am so thankful for that [new] middle school … but it is still overcrowded. It is still very much populated,” she said.
Overcrowded schools do not necessarily mean overcrowded classrooms.
“Sometimes people think that that affects class size. It does not,” Roth said. “Because class size is dictated by law.”
In Florida, state law mandates no more than 18 students per class between pre-kindergarten and third grade, 22 students per class from fourth to eighth grade, and 25 students per class from ninth to 12th grade.
While the new schools will not necessarily reduce class size, Roth said they will help with something else.
“What it does do, is it reduces the amount of crowding in hallways and the number of classrooms on campus,” Roth said.
Use the graphic below to find out if your school is overcrowded. If the graphic does not load, click here to view it in a web browser.