PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Roughly 2,000 families could be impacted by Palm Beach County's newest high school when it opens next August.
Dr. Joaquín García High School is currently under construction on Lyons Road, just north of Lantana Road in western Lake Worth, right next to Woodlands Middle School.
The School District of Palm Beach County's Advisory Boundary Committee — which determines which students will be zoned for particular schools — on Thursday released three proposed boundary maps, showing that up to eight high schools and more than 1,900 students could be impacted by attendance zone changes from García High School.
The proposed changes span as far south as Boynton Beach, north to West Palm Beach, east to Lake Worth Beach, and west to Wellington.
Dr. Joaquín García High School, the first public high school to open in Palm Beach County since Seminole Ridge Community High School in 2005, will have a dramatic ripple effect to relieve overcrowding at area schools, many of which are well overcapacity.
In all three proposed maps, certain students from Palm Beach Central High School, John I. Leonard High School, Santaluces Community High School, and Park Vista Community High School would be rezoned for García High School.
The other major shifts would send between 400 and 500 students from Forest Hill Community High School — the most overcrowded in Palm Beach County, currently at 129% utilization — west to John I. Leonard High School, and more than 300 students from Olympic Heights Community High School north to Park Vista.
It's unclear what exceptions would allow students to remain at their current schools.
SEE: Proposed boundary changes (Study 1)
SEE: Proposed boundary changes (Study 2)
SEE: Proposed boundary changes (Study 3)
The school, which is projected to have a student population of 2,500 by the 2027-28 academic year, is named after Dr. Joaquín García, a Cuban-born local businessman who was a founding member of the Hispanic Education Coalition of Palm Beach County, where he served as chairman for more than 12 years.
Garcia passed away in November 2021 and was posthumously honored with a proclamation from the Palm Beach County School Board one month later.
Dr. Joaquín García High School will feature business information technology and medical sciences programs.
According to the latest enrollment statistics from the School District of Palm Beach County, the following nine high schools are on the "Capacity Watch List," meaning they are at, over, or close to being overcapacity:
- Forest Hill Community High School: 129% utilization
- John I. Leonard High School: 116% utilization
- Olympic Heights Community High School: 114% utilization
- Palm Beach Central High School: 103% utilization
- Santaluces High School: 102% utilization
- Park Vista Community High School: 101% utilization
- Boca Raton Community High School: 100% utilization
- West Boca Raton Community High School: 100% utilization
- Seminole Ridge Community High School: 95% utilization
All three proposed boundary maps would bring the impacted schools close to or under 100% capacity.
"A lot of dirt flying around and stuff, so it gets on the cars, but overall it's a positive," said western Lake Worth resident Bruce Walsh.
Walsh has watched García High School from the ground up.
"It's nice. Been waiting for it for a long time," Walsh said.
What's even nicer, Walsh said, is that his grandkids will go to school there, according to the proposed boundary maps just released.
"I like it. It's a lot closer," Walsh said. "Where they go now, Santaluces, there are like four high schools closer to them than where they live," Walsh said.
But the new boundaries would also shuffle hundreds of students from other overcrowded schools like Forest Hill Community High School and Olympic Heights Community High School in west Boca Raton.
"He does not want to move," said parent Jennifer Vilela.
Vilela's tenth grader would have to leave Olympic Heights for Park Vista.
"When you see your son excelling at the school that he's in, at Olympic Heights, it is a little nerve-wracking to think, what will that be? How will that affect him mentally, emotionally, socially?" Vilela said. "It could be really devastating, to be honest."
Vilela understands the process is necessary, but hopes for some exceptions.
"It's not the first time, I'm sure, that this is happening," Vilela said. "But for me, it is. So I think we just have to wait and see what's going to happen. But if we can speak up and our voices can be heard, that's the best thing we can do as parents."
"You get all the new technology, the latest and greatest. So it's always good to be at a new school," Walsh said.
Walsh is excited for his grandkids, and for himself, too.
"I'm right across the street from it, so they can come over after school to my house. So it's great," Walsh said.
The school district's Advisory Boundary Committee is scheduled to meet on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. to review the maps, take public comment, and potentially vote to recommend one of the maps to Superintendent Mike Burke and the Palm Beach County School Board for final approval.
In addition to Dr. Joaquín García High School, the Advisory Boundary Committee will also discuss zoning for the new West Boynton Middle School on Acme Dairy Road in west Boynton Beach.
That proposed map, however, is a lot less complicated and impacts fewer schools.