By Shelley Howard
For the past decade or so, the first day back to school in St. Johns County has been focused on the opening of a new school about every other year. This comes as no surprise, as St. Johns is one of the fastest growing counties not only in the State of Florida, but in the country. This year, with no new school opening and growth continuing at a sizable rate, the alternative was adding 35 “relocatables” (commonly known as portable classrooms) to a total of 393 across the county.
Some schools were able to maintain a smaller enrollment increase such as Fruit Cove Middle School, requiring only three relocatables, whereas Bartram Trail High School had to find space for 12. Bartram Trail is the largest high school in the county with an enrollment of more than 2,800. The crunch has steadily placed a burden to hire qualified teachers, find parking for students, land for the relocatables, and many other stressors that come with more students on campus to monitor.
According to the St. Johns County School District, the student count for the district’s first day of school, Aug. 12, was 39,159, an increase of 2,240 students or 6 percent over last year’s first day number of 36,919. St. Johns County continues to be one of the fastest growing school districts in the state.
“We have lots and lots of students,” said School Board member for District 1, Beverly Slough. “The number of new students was beyond our projections and we haven’t seen this level of growth in awhile.”
Administrators are working together as a school family to stay on top of growing pains — as was evident on the first day of school as Principal Chris Phelps, deans and teachers were out in full force monitoring the campus and answering questions. While educating 2,800 students can be an exhausting task, they need only hold on a little longer as the school district recently announced that a new high school will be budgeted sooner than previously indicated with an opening date of fall 2021.
Another area of focus for the county this year has been in safety and security. Notable changes include adjustments to school start and end times in an attempt to reduce traffic back ups and allow bus drivers more time to make all their routes in a timely manner. Additionally, drop off routes and entrance gates were tweaked with revised rules for parents and visitors to operate under a one-entry system. High school students found they can no longer access campus before 8:30 a.m. to reduce unsupervised activity and also entered to find glass constructed to front office desk areas for the protection of students and staff.
Photo courtesy Shelley Howard
Drivers need to be mindful of school buses and their stops: school is back in session in St. Johns County.