By Martie Thompson

Monday, Aug. 16 dawned bright and early for students in NW St. Johns County — the first day of school for the 2021 – 2022 school year. The typical opening day heavy traffic occurred, as parents were more likely to drive their student to school for the first day. Officials with the school district and sheriff’s office expect these delays to settle down as the school year progresses and everyone gets into a routine.

“I was really excited as I went to the schools on the first day, especially to see how happy the students were to be back with their friends and teachers,” School Board member for District 1 Bev Slough said. “At many of the schools I saw the new kindergarteners with wide eyes on their school tours. It was just a great day.” 

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The student count for the St. Johns County School District the first day of school, Aug. 16, was 41,744, an increase of 4,986 students or 13.6 percent over last year’s first day number of 36,758. St. Johns County continues to be one of the fastest growing school districts in the state; however, a portion of this extreme growth reflects students returning to in-person learning.

The high school student count was 14,051 with 3,096 students at Bartram Trail High School, 2,297 at Creekside High School, 1,336 at Pedro Menendez High School, 2,340 at Allen D. Nease High School, 1,814 at Ponte Vedra High School, and 1,642 at St. Augustine High School. The opening day number for the new high school, Tocoi Creek, was 1,281. 

Tocoi Creek High School principal Jay Willets was delighted that all the planning and hard work to open the new school was paying off — despite the fact that two of his school’s buildings were still under construction.

“Our theme for the first week was celebration and flexibility,” Willets said, noting that opening the school with just grades nine through 11 allowed for extra classrooms to be available so the construction didn’t impact student learning or safety.

“My first day impression was … great start!” he said. 

Middle school attendance totaled 6,869, with student headcounts ranging from 676 at Sebastian Middle School to 1,301 at Pacetti Bay Middle School. The other first day figures were Alice B. Landrum Middle School with 1,162, Fruit Cove Middle School with 1,083, R. J. Murray Middle School with 563, Gamble Rogers Middle School with 835, and Switzerland Point Middle School with 1,249.

The district’s K-8 schools totaled 9,398. Liberty Pines Academy had a first day headcount of 1,289, Patriot Oaks Academy with 1,153, Valley Ridge Academy with 1,136; Freedom Crossing Academy was the largest with 1,937, Palm Valley Academy with 1,358, Mill Creek Academy with 1,556 and new district’s new K-8, Pine Island Academy, with 969.

The elementary school population totaled 11,282. This count only includes approximately 25 percent of all kindergarten students since schools stagger the kindergarten start date over a four-day period. 

“The hard work and dedication from administration, teachers and support staff to make opening day the very best was impressive,” said Superintendent Tim Forson. “As I visited schools it was wonderful to see the excitement of students as they entered the buildings eager to learn, engage with friends, and get acquainted with their teachers.”

St. Johns County School District staff will continue to monitor attendance numbers, balance classrooms, and refine bus routes throughout the coming weeks.

Photo courtesy Katelyn Ostopick

The Tocoi Creek Toros had their first ever pep rally on Aug. 20, in advance of the football game vs. Paxson. Earlier in the week, the school recorded its first FHSAA win for any sport when the Lady Toros volleyball team was victorious over Flagler Palm Coast.

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