By Martie Thompson

Monday, Aug. 16 dawned bright and early for students in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee — 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 think our kids and families were very excited to be back in school,” School Board member for District 4 Kelly Barrera said. “There was such a positive energy in the school buildings as I visited.”

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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. There were also 221 students in attendance at St. Johns Technical High School.

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 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.

Pine Island Academy had its share of traffic congestion the first week, but according to Principal Amanda Riedl, the whopping one hour and 15 minutes required for dismissal the first day decreased by 20 minutes per day so that by the third day, dismissal was much more efficient.

“I have the most amazing Dolphin Team that leads alongside me, and I could not have ever made this journey without them,” Riedl said. “The most exciting part has been the energy in the school and community. Although we are still working on the details, our focus of building relationships has made the first few days memorable for all.”

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 Amanda Riedl

First grade students enter Pine Island Academy on the first day of school.

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