Benny Smith, principal of West Orange – Stark Elementary School, and Bill Conway, interim superintendent of West Orange – Cove CISD, welcomed the community to the dedication and ribbon cutting of the new WO-S Elementary school building on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The dedication began with Rhys Howeth, a third grade student from WO-S Elementary, singing the National Anthem and the Pledge to the United States Flag and Texas flag led by WO-S Elementary students. A moment of silence was taken to reflect and honor the events of the past month that the WO-S family have experienced.  Several WO-S students sang “America the Beautiful,” “Texas, Our Texas,” and “Amazing Grace.”

The American Flag previously flew over the U.S. Capitol and was donated by U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady. The Texas State Flag previously flew over the Texas Capitol and donated by Texas State Representative Mike Hamiliton. Both now proudly fly over the WO-S Elementary School campus.

“My theme this year has been the real Mustang,” Conway said. “And if this building doesn’t epitomize the real Mustang, I don’t know what does. Because, by it’s beauty and size, it demands respect. When you walk into the building and the classrooms, it communicates high expectations.”

School Board President, Pete Amy, introduced  the guests of honor, Bettie J. Curtis and Andrew Hayes Jr.

Curtis, an Orange native, was educated in Orange County schools.  She graduated from college with a degree in business education at the age of 19 and comes from a family of 13.  She holds a Masters degree in business.

She has taught business educations classes in WOCCISD for 52 years. She has held leadership offices for Business Education Associations and Teacher Associations at the local and state levels.  She had additionally earn Business Education Teacher of the Year and District Teacher of the Year honors multiple times.

The new library at WO-S Elementary has been named “The Bettie Curtis Library.” “I am, indeed, humble and grateful that the board has chosen to the name the library at the WO-S Elementary School in my honor,” said Curtis.

“I teach because I have been taught,” she said. “I teach because I believe that each child is important and should have the opportunity to develop to his [or her] fullest potential. I teach because ignorance can enslave us while truth liberates.”

Hayes, a native of Port Arthur, holds a Masters in Education from McNeese State University in Lake Charles. He began his teaching career in 1959 as a science teacher and a coach.  He moved to Orange to begin his service with district in 1961. He has served as a teacher, a coach, an assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent and superintendent emeritus and is now a member of the WOCCISD Board of Trustees.

Hayes said “How can I express the full measure of my appreciation for having my name on the gymnasium section on this magnificent school? Let me say without hesitation, that I accept this great honor.  I accept it with pride, gratitude and a full heart.”

The new school is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Pinehurst and was constructed on 25 acres of property. At the beginning of construction, it was the largest facility in Orange County and the largest elementary school in the area. The school has the capacity to serve 1500 student and houses the students that formerly attended Anderson and Lorena Oates Elementary Schools. It was constructed to withstand natural disasters and to operate independently on generated power should the necessity arise.

The campus includes a 10,000 square foot cafeteria, a 4,500 square foot library, an 11,400 square foot main corridor and eighty-six 1,000 square foot classrooms located in a total of six different wing.  Each grade level wing, kindergarten through fifth grade, is decorated with a unique color scheme. The campus houses two science laboratories and eight mechanical mezzanines.

The total cost of the new school is $36.5 million and an additional $490,000 was spent on new classroom, office, cafeteria and library furniture.

The doors to WO-S Elementary were opened to students on the first day of school, Aug. 23.

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers