ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Summer vacation ends Monday for students in St. Johns County, and this year there will be more students answering the bell than last.
Growth is the biggest challenge confronting St. Johns County schools. About 1,500 new students enroll each year.
This year, 42,000 students will fill the county's kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms. There is a growing need for more schools.
"We've been in that position for probably 12 to 15 years now where we grow by about a school a year,” St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said. “I really appreciate our planning and growth department, who work really hard to make sure the funding is structured in the right way so that sites are available as we move forward. ... Just a year ago we opened two new schools. Both of those schools are already at capacity.”
While the county is building new schools to accommodate the growing student population, finding new teachers provides an additional challenge.
“That’s the other side that’s becoming increasingly more difficult, as available candidates start to decline," Forson said. “Young adults today are looking at the many options that are out there job-wise and it’s not always education. So it’s a competitive market for us as a school district to find the very best.”
Another challenge presented by the county's growth is transportation. That's a concern felt by a number of parents whose families live in the St. Johns Forest area. The parents, who contacted us through our 4 Your Info tool, said students must walk to Liberty Pines Academy because of a lack of buses.
"This is another area in which there is no funding, it doesn't qualify for bus eligibility for the district, and transportation as a whole is not fully funded," Forson said. "So I think what we are doing is something that is consistent throughout the district, and at times that certainly creates a challenge to a community that in the past may have had transportation."
School safety is also a priority, and the county added more school resource officers and additional mental health counselors tasked with helping students manage their emotions and learn interpersonal skills. Their goal is making sure kids who need help get it.
“It's not only the fact that we've expanded our mental health counselors,” Forson said. “We've expanded the number of social workers. We have a school psychologist but probably most critical is proper training for all staff, so that everyone can see and have awareness of a child who may be in distress or isolated."
The goal, according to Forson, is better understanding and dealing with a student’s behavioral problems.
If you have questions for the superintendents of Duval County, submit them on the 4 Your Info section of news4jax.com and we’ll do our best to get your questions answered.