Q: Can you give us an update as of today (June 15) about what the St. Johns County School District is doing to comply with the school safety act?
A: We just had a joint meeting with the Board of County Commissioners where we presented our plan and asked for their help. Currently we have 15 Youth Resource Officers that the school district and the sheriff’s office jointly pay for. This leaves us a gap of 28 officers in order to have one on each school campus.
Q: What is the plan that you presented?
A: We asked the Board of County Commissioners to provide funds for the capital outlay (cars, guns) for these 28 officers and we offered to pay all of the salaries. They would be St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office employees and the sheriff offered to provide training. These officers would work for the school district for 180 days plus summer school each year and then for SJSO for the remainder. The Board of County Commissioners has a meeting on June 19 at which they will vote on this proposal. I am hopeful that it will pass.
Q: Would all these officers be hired by the beginning of the school year as required by the law?
A: No. So, as a stopgap measure, the school board has authorized the superintendent to negotiate a contract with a security company to provide armed guards in the interim, possibly up to a year. There are security companies with guards who are specially trained to work on school campuses and these are the companies we will be negotiating with. We are taking great care to ensure that the guards we hire will be best suited to protect our children.
Q: What would you say to parents who might be nervous about having armed guards who are not sheriff’s deputies on campuses?
A: We are required by law to have an armed guard or officer on every campus beginning the first day of school. The law also requires the guards to have specific training and psychological screenings and these are the types of guards we would hire. This is the closest thing to a deputy we will be able to have in this interim period. I’m well pleased that we have a plan to get one guard on each campus for safety of our students.
Q: What do you know so far about this year’s standardized test results?
A: I’m very pleased. We have preliminary numbers and St. Johns County is first in the state in all measures of reading and most measures of math. We are also No. 1 in EOC (End of Course) exams. The hard work of our students and teachers has yielded great results.
Q: Any other updates?
A: The new schools are very close to completion. All of our principals are working on hiring additional staff as the school district continues to grow. We had 5 percent growth last year and we anticipate about the same this year — about 1,000 more students.
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