In 1985, eleven years after the opening of Hillsdale Elementary School, the West Chester Area School District began to experience a dramatic increase in student enrollment due to a large economic resurgence along the Route 202 corridor. During expansion discussions, the decision was made to retain the average classroom size at 25 students and to provide each elementary school with separate art and music classrooms. The need for a computer laboratory in each school, and for appropriate areas to house special education classes, was also emphasized.
To meet those objectives, the district investigated moving the fifth grades to the middle schools or re-opening Thornbury and Paoli Pike Elementary Schools, which had been closed in the early 1980s. Those options were all rejected as not in the best interests of long-range planning.
In March 1987, the School Board authorized the search for land for a new elementary school. The Board also voted to construct permanent additions and purchase modular classrooms to equalize facilities in the exiting schools. On July 27, 1987, the School Board approved the purchase of 37.9 acres north of Stetson Middle School along Route 202 for the price of $1,050,000. The plans for the new school were approved by the board in September 1989. Dr. Janet P. Shaner, Assistant to the Superintendent for Elementary Education, was named project director. She headed a committee of eight community and school leaders who recommended that the school be named for Sarah W. Starkweather.
Born in 1843, Sarah W. Starkweather became the first superintendent of West Chester Borough Schools; her tenure ran from 1881 to 1889. The school district budget increased from $14,400 to $28,800 during her term. She led the West Chester school from 1866 until 1881 when she was named superintendent. She was dedicated to the education of all children, and is credited with ushering in one of Pennsylvania’s first special education program. She died in 1918.
The Architect for the project was DK Architects & Planners. With a final construction cost of $6,518,256, the school boasts a central atrium complete with skylights that create a warm, open feeling. The original structure contained 20 regular classrooms, two kindergarten classrooms, two special education classrooms, along with computer, science, art, music, gym, cafeteria, library rooms.
The school opened in September 1991 under the leadership of superintendent Dr. Thomas J. Kent, School Board president George C. Zumbano, Esq., and principal Donald S. Pitt. The original building’s capacity of 600 students was soon exceeded, causing three modular classrooms to be added to the west side of the school in 1994. A permanent addition of four classrooms was built onto the east side of the classroom wing in 1998.
Starkweather Elementary was recognized as a Blue Ribbon School in 1998-99. Students from this school attend Stetson Middle and Rustin High School.