By Martie Thompson
For the first time in three years, St. Johns County students returned to school on Aug. 10, the earliest date allowed by state law and the preferred date by school district officials since it allows students to complete the first semester prior to winter break. Due to some minor construction delays, the county’s newest school, Beachside High School, opened a few days later on Aug. 15.
“From everything I’ve heard, the first day of school around the county went smoothly,” School Board member Patrick Canan said. “Kudos especially to everyone at Beachside High School for working all weekend and getting the doors opened to students on Aug. 15.”
According to the school district, the student count for the St. Johns County School District on the first day of school, Aug. 10, was 43,409, an increase of 1,665 students or 4 percent over last year’s first day number of 41,744. This count only includes approximately 34 percent of all kindergarten students, since schools stagger the kindergarten start date over a three-day period. St. Johns County continues to be one of the fastest growing school districts in the state.
At Julington Creek Elementary, home to 1,045 students this year, school secretary Heidi Karl said that students and families were happy and eager to return.
“We have more fabulous students and families due to the rezoning of Hickory Creek Elementary and also our new ESE programming,” Karl said. “We are excited to celebrate the school’s 50th birthday this year.”
At Freedom Crossing Elementary, one of the district’s most populous schools with an expected 1,950 students, fourth grade teacher Lauren O’Shell said the first day was a success, with hallways filled with music and dancing during arrival to excite the students and welcome them back into the building.
Freedom Crossing Academy Vice Principal Melissa Lime noted some changes for the coming school year, including a partnership with Creekside Teaching Academy and the Bartram Trail IT Academy to provide opportunities for student internships and STEM projects.
“Also, Freedom Crossing Academy is a National Showcase Capturing Kids Hearts Model School, the only school in Florida, and we have been recognized as a Florida PBIS Model School since 2019 for our effective school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports,” Lime said. “The framework is aligned with Capturing Kids’ Hearts best practices and the SJCSD Character Counts pillars.”
At Nease High School, Principal Lisa Kunze said the first day went well. She said that the school’s car line was empty at 9:16 a.m. and everyone was in class at 9:20 a.m.
“Students seemed excited about being back on campus and starting a new school year,” Kunze said. “Students met all their teachers, we fed them, and they all returned home safely. A great first day!”
Kunze said Nease has adopted a new cell phone procedure this year at the request of the leadership team, who had asked for a school wide policy to ensure consistency from classroom to classroom.
“We purchased pocket holders for each classroom and require students to place their phone in the pocket holder upon entering,” Kunze said. “This new procedure will help students maintain their academic focus without the distraction of their cell phone.”
The St. Johns County School District’s first day counts included a high school student count of 13,601 with 2,260 students at Bartram Trail High School, 2,383 at Creekside High School, 1,371 at Pedro Menendez High School, 2,119 at Allen D. Nease High School, 1,863 at Ponte Vedra High School, 1,615 at St. Augustine High School and 1809 at Tocoi Creek High School. There were also 181 students in attendance at St. Johns Technical High School.
Middle school attendance totaled 7,136, with student headcounts ranging from 634 at Sebastian Middle School to 1,382 at Pacetti Bay Middle School. The other first day totals were Alice B. Landrum Middle School with 1,090, Fruit Cove Middle School with 1,182, R. J. Murray Middle School with 641, Gamble Rogers Middle School with 835, and Switzerland Point Middle School with 1,372.
The district’s K-8 schools totaled 10,262. Liberty Pines Academy had a first day headcount of 1,581, Patriot Oaks Academy with 1,298, Valley Ridge Academy with 1,188; Freedom Crossing Academy with 1,775, Palm Valley Academy with 1,363, Mill Creek Academy with 1,691 and Pine Island Academy with 1,366.
The elementary school population totaled 12,042 and another 368 students attended the district’s alternative, charter and Department of Juvenile Justice schools on the first day of school.
“The preparation from administration, teachers and support staff to welcome students on the first day was amazing,” said Superintendent Tim Forson. “As I visited schools it was wonderful to see the excitement of students as they greeted school staff, engaged with friends and started getting acquainted with their teachers.”
School district staff will continue to monitor attendance numbers, balance classrooms and refine bus routes in the coming weeks.
Photo courtesy Lauren O’Shell
New fourth graders at Freedom Crossing Academy.