Orange County Public Schools has been on the move in recent years, literally. Downtown Orlando has seen significant changes to its schools, mostly regarded as positive by those affected.
One of these changes is the reconstruction of Hillcrest Elementary at 1010 E. Concord St. along North Mills Avenue. The school currently offers a foreign language magnet education of either French or Spanish. Admission is chosen through a lottery system of applicants.
According to the OCPS website, the rigorous foreign language magnet curriculum teaches students to become competent and proficient in their learned languages. The program also instills cultural awareness while encouraging academic excellence, and it shapes students toward responsible citizenship and lifelong learning.
The website further describes the school as “nestled in the quaint historic Lake Eola Heights district, located in the downtown area of Orlando. The nearby brick streets, beautiful huge oak trees, historical character, charm, and warm and inviting community spirit makes Hillcrest a special place of learning for students throughout the district” ocps.net/cms/One.aspx?portalId=76813&pageId=114214
A recent construction update meeting was held February 26 by School Board Member Nancy Robbinson, who represents OCPS District 6. Attendees also asked several questions about school safety in light of the recent shootings in South Florida. OCPS security officials responded that safety has been an integral part of school design ever since the Columbine school shootings of 1999.
Otherwise, the 30 – 40 faculty members and parents in attendance seemed excited for the new facilities.
As far as the construction goes, several existing buildings have been demolished and are being replaced with state-of-the-art learning facilities.
The new school is designed to meet Green Globes Sustainable building certification standards. Some of Hillcrest’s sustainable features include:
—Native/low-water plants for less water consumption.
—Low-impact development stormwater design
—High-efficiency chillers, yielding 8 percent energy reduction
—Light-colored roof, reducing heat gain and improving energy performance
—Energy Star–rated equipment
—Water-saving toilets, faucets, and fixtures
—Thermal-efficient windows and glazing
One not-so-sustainable change will be the school’s increased vehicular traffic with more students coming from farther across the county. OCPS has planned for the increase with an extensive car loop, street improvements, and a two-level parking garage. Bidirectional vehicular flow on Hyer Avenue will be restored to better distribute and diffuse traffic leaving the school during peak operations.
Adjacent Mills Avenue will not have a school zone; drivers should be aware of the increased presence of children and driving parents.
During construction, students have been attending the recently closed Fern Creek Elementary School in Colonialtown North, which will be converted to the Elementary Gifted Magnet School once Hillcrest reopens. By housing the students in the old Fern Creek school, construction at Hillcrest has been able to move very quickly, with minimal impact to students and faculty.
This construction has been made possible by Orange County taxpayers, who renewed the half-penny sales tax in 2014. According to OCPS, about 55 percent of that tax is paid by visitors to Orange County (ocps.net/departments/facilities/sales_tax/).
According to Robbinson, kindergarten students in the Hillcrest zone are given a geographic preference to the new school but must still apply. Beginning in the 2018 – 2019 school year, Hillcrest kindergarten students will be “zoneless,” meaning students can apply from across the county and will be chosen by lottery. However, students who currently attend Hillcrest and will be entering grades one through five in the fall can stay by filing a grandfather transfer request through OCPS’s Student Enrollment department this year.
Each year, new students from the former Hillcrest zone will be given a geographic preference in the first lottery, usually held in February. Those not chosen will be automatically added to the second lottery. If still not selected, students will instead attend the Lake Como School at the corner of South Bumby Avenue and Gore Street, which is also being rebuilt and will open this fall.
While some students may have farther to travel, all will benefit from new facilities. Robbinson pointed out that great efforts were made to give neighborhood students better odds of being selected. For more information on the application process, please refer to the OCPS website: ocps.net/departments/school_choice/magnet_programs/magnet_application_process/.
Lauren Roth from OCPS Facilities Communications said that, historically, more students apply for the Hillcrest magnet program than are accepted. However, the new building will house 500 students, and the current Hillcrest zone has only 142 students, so the odds are good that most neighborhood applicants could be accepted — but there is no guarantee.
Students who were not chosen in the lottery will automatically be added to a waitlist. Applications for the summer waitlist open May 15 for those who didn’t apply for the lottery.
Thornton Park residents Heather and Eric Younggren’s two children attended Hillcrest and were reselected for the new school. All are excited about both the new facilities and the foreign language magnet program. Heather Younggren said, “We are grateful for everything the Hillcrest faculty does to ensure our children get the most out of the foreign language magnet program!”