Laughter and tears were peppered among hearty hugs and handshakes last Sunday as West Elementary School welcomed the community for its 50th anniversary celebration.
Principal Michelle Lewis welcomed retired and current teachers, along with former students and parents, in slicing squares of the ceremonial cake marking the half-century since the former McMinnville City School System opened the facility in 1965 on land that earlier served as the golf course for the McMinnville Country Club. The property came into the possession of the Warren County Board of Education with the 1969 consolidation of the local systems.
When West ES opened 50 years ago it had an enrollment of 700 students in grades one through five. With the start of the 1971-72 year, the school converted to first-and-second grade facility as a feeder to the former William Biles Elementary, then a third-and-fourth grade institution. That Locust Street property was closed as a school and fell into dormancy, but later resurrected and remodeled as the main administrative center for Warren County government operations.
The original, core building was finished by JD Mullican Construction Company, the general contractor, at a cost of $600,000, financed by municipal bonds that were repaid over 25 years. In 1977 West opened its new $226,000 kindergarten center. The present gymnasium-assembly building was completed in 1991 and is now awaiting near-term upgrades including lighting sources and energy efficiency improvements.
After experimenting with multi-age programs in the 1990s, West now houses 32 traditional classrooms: one pre-kindergarten, six kindergarten and five classes each for grades one through five.
The Warren County School System inaugurated its Extended Day services at West in April 1989 with an enrollment of two students. The program, which now serves more than 50 children, offers day care before and after regular classes, with hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and all-day operations when classes are in summer recess.
Principal Lewis and West teachers emphasize the importance of parental involvement in support of students and the school. The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), an autonomous volunteer organization, has worked for many years to raise funds for classroom equipment and supplies as well as playground enhancements. The school leader took occasion to remind all parents their visits and suggestions are always welcomed.
In remarks at the golden anniversary celebration, Lewis praised the West Elementary teachers for their professional dedication and skill as well as their personal devotion to the wellbeing and academic and social advancement of the children in their care. She also lauded the food service staff and custodial and maintenance personnel for their irreplaceable contributions daily to the success of the educational program.
Also cited for extraordinary service were the special needs programs. Under the overall direction of special education director Candice Willmore, highly-trained and motivated specialists serve student with particular needs in speech, physical and occupational therapy.
West Elementary’s charter principal, the late Harry Copenhaver, served from the opening day in 1965 until his retirement in 1972.
Other principals were, in succession: Keith Hollingsworth, 1972-81; John Brock, 1981-85; Bryan Knight, 1985-89; Bob Mason, 1989-90; Troy Jones, 1989-2003; Marsha Newman, 2003-2013; and currently Ms Lewis, serving since 2013.