In 1911, the area known as Winter Park Gardens was considered to be "out in the country" and was sparsely populated. However, there were enough families with children in the area so they requested a teacher from the Board of Education. Mrs. Maud A. Foy was hired as the first teacher and the newly organized Baptist Church (now known as Winter Park Baptist Church) housed the school until a new building could be built. Winter Park School began with 25 students; the minimum required number of pupils to start a school.
On August 8, 1912, Mr. Hugh McRae and his wife, Rena, gave "2.25 acres, more or less" to the New Hanover Board of Education for a $10.00 donation. Mr. H. J. McMillan owned land bordering the new Winter Park School property; hence the name of the street the school is located, MacMillan Avenue (spelling differences are according to historical documents and the U. S. Postal Service).
A two-room brick structure was built in 1912 costing $4,316.00. In 1913 and 1914 the auditorium, basement, and six other classrooms were added.
Miss Annie Herring was elected as Winter Park School's first official principal on April 13, 1928, at a salary of $1,656.00.
The area's population continued to grow and by 1915 there were 88 students on the attendance records in grades 1 - 8. In 1937 there were over 200 students enrolled. Grades 3 and 4 had between 40 - 50 students in each grade, 7th grade had 53 students and 8th grade had 55 students. There was just 1 teacher per grade and no assistants!
The 7th and 8th grade boys had the opportunity to play football, baseball, and basketball. On December 11, 1942, the football team won a trophy for the championship. It was their first winning year! In 1943 they won the baseball championship. The 7th and 8th grade girls also played on basketball, softball, and cheerleading teams. They won the basketball championship in 1944-1946. If you look at the numerous trophies in our trophy case, you will see that these championship wins were just the beginning for Winter Park's junior high students. Other trophies in the case are from the late 1940s up until 1971.
The school continued to get larger in 1942 when 6 more classrooms were added. The Principal received their own office space, and an Infirmary and 2 more bathrooms were built. Eight more teachers were added to the staff. The Library now had their own space in the basement. This was very exciting for the entire school. The Library's motto was, "Reading to learn". The bell system also became automated.
Up until now, students brought their lunch from home or if they lived very close, would walk home to eat. If students could pay, there were volunteers that made sandwiches to sell for lunch. There was no way to cook anything as the cafeteria didn't have a stove. That changed in the early 1940s when a new stove was purchased. That stove used either wood or coal (history is not clear on which one) as its energy source.
In 1956, what we currently call the "Annex", or the K-1 wing, was built. This addition contains six classrooms with bathrooms.
Years passed and by the early to mid-1990s Winter Park has about 748 students in attendance. Parsley Elementary School opened in 1997 which relieved Winter Park from overcrowding. Winter Park received a new staff to serve about 300 students and was under the leadership of Joyce Huguelet, Principal and Lynn Fulton, Assistant Principal. Parent representatives and staff members worked together to come up with the mission statement, "To provide an emotionally safe environment and meaningful learning experiences to develop joyful and productive life-long learners."
Our building was renovated in 2008-2009. The building was brought up to code to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The HVAC system was updated (no more noisy window A/C units or radiators for heat!) and wonderful technology updates were added. Some of the original wood floors remain, as well as the bead-board ceiling and transoms over many of the classroom doors. The auditorium received some cosmetic improvements but the floors and seats are the same ones from 1913. Winter Park retains its unique charm and welcoming atmosphere that it had 97 years ago!
In 2019, our philosophy about creating an emotionally safe learning environment with a focus on intrinsic motivation continues. Those who have been a part of the Winter Park family for quite some time refer to this philosophy as, "The Winter Park Way". We strongly believe that all children at our school should have access to all the benefits and activities that the school offers. The benefit to the school as a whole is that children feel emotionally comfortable for learning and forming social relationships. Every person in our school community is equally respected and valued. All students and all adults are winners! See our separate post titled "Haves and Have-Nots by Joyce Huguelet for more information on our philosophy.
We have accomplished this belief in numerous ways. Winter Park purchases all school supplies for every student enrolled using our budgeted monies from Local, State, and Federal allotments. Our PTA's Make It Happen campaign pays for students' ice cream on ice cream days, funds all field trips, and some classroom supplies. Teachers apply for grants and request donations to pay for students' materials in after school activities like the Science Olympiad and Musicals.
Winter Park School has seen many changes since its beginnings in 1912 but some things have not changed. We remain a school with high quality leadership and staff. We care greatly about our students and remain committed to providing them with the best education available. After 107 years, the Winter Park spirit lives on!
Many thanks to Clara M. Hodges, Winter Park student 1941-1949, and her book Winter Park School Remembered for much of the historical information mentioned in this article.