Westwood Middle School opened its doors in 1960. Over the last fifty- three years it has changed from "Westwood Junior High School" to "Westwood Middle School." The school has had many principals from the first- Mr. Russell Simmons, to the current, Mr. Daniel Burney. What has not changed is that Westwood is still a neighborhood school with a long tradition of academic excellence.
Westwood Middle School has an interesting history.
With the postwar growth in Gainesville moving westward from "town," neighborhoods and new homes soon began to populate the area west of 13th Street. This meant that our prosperous, and little tree-lined town would need more schools to accommodate more students. In 1958, there was just one public junior high school, Buchholz Junior High School, located on the corner of West University Avenue, and SW 7th Street. Buchholz Junior High took up residence in the "old" Gainesville High School building, when the new GHS campus opened in the fall of 1955. With the need for additional schools to meet the needs of the west side population, it was determined that the wooded area located on NW 34th near NW 16th Avenue would soon be the new home of a "modernized" school named Westwood Junior High School. It was also during this time period that a new elementary school would soon open, just south of Westwood and across 34th Street.
In the fall of 1958, Westwood Junior High School opened its doors housing not only junior high school students, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, (approximately 165 students) but also elementary school grades waiting for the not yet completed elementary school to open. (This school opened in the fall of 1959, and was named Littlewood, meaning "little students in little woods". A contest was held among the students to come up with best name, and third grader, Robby Beckham chose the winning name.) Leadership of the junior high was led by principal Russell Simmons, and guidance counselor, Crystal Hord. The faculty boasted twenty teachers with subjects ranging from Home Economics to Algebra and Latin. The school continued to grow, and by 1961 the student population had increased by two-thirds. This meant that in a very short time Westwood needed more classrooms. Soon portable buildings and new construction appeared, and in 1962 due to lack of space, the students entering the seventh grade who lived east of 22nd Street and west of 8th Avenue had to attend seventh grade in a designated area of JJ Finley elementary school. By 1963, Westwood Junior High School was in full swing! Known not only for its excellent academics, but also for its outstanding extra-curricular activities and winning sports teams, Westwood Junior High School had become the "desired" junior high school.
The mid to late sixties saw Westwood as a thriving school graduating hundreds and hundreds of students on to Gainesville High School. Westwood boasted student government, the yearbook (Whirlwind), the newspaper (Westwood Whisper), football team, (1965 City Championship), basketball team, spirited cheerleaders, a glee club, an orchestra, a band, and sparkling majorettes. Westwood had a weekly student-written column in the Gainesville Sun, along with a Saturday morning radio show on the WDVH radio station. Westwood's band, majorettes, and cheerleaders always appeared in the Christmas Parade and in the UF Homecoming parade. There were many dances, talent shows, dramatic productions, fashion shows produced by the Future Homemakers of America, and at the end of the school year, a formal dance, the Freshman Prom. Westwood offered everything that a Gainesville teenager could have hoped for -- outstanding academics and a chance at a very busy social life.
By 1970, overcrowding had caused split sessions not only at Gainesville High School, but at Westwood as well. Buchholz Junior High School had closed in 1966, and even though Howard Bishop had opened on the east side of town in 1963, Gainesville had continued to grow, and once again there was a need for more schools. In 1971 both Buchholz Junior- Senior High School and Eastside Junior-Senior High School opened housing grades 7-10, then in 1972, grades 7-11.
In 1972, Westwood added tenth grade to accommodate overcrowding at GHS, and Buchholz, and in 1973 Westwood became the home for all seventh and eighth graders who would then go on to ninth grade at either GHS or Buchholz. The following year Westwood became a middle school, along with yet another new school, even farther west called Fort Clarke Middle School.
Westwood Alumnus ‘73