St. Johns County public schools swelling

Superintendent says county is growing at the rate of one school per year


SWITZERLAND Fla. – With 33,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade now attending St. Johns County schools, the number of children returning to the classrooms Monday are somewhat overwhelming to students, parents and staff.

Switzerland Point Middle School has 1,280 enrolled this year -- 100 more than last year and 50 more than they had in the budget.

"We have four elementary schools that feed to us, so lots of students who don't know each other. They've never been in a building this large or with this many," said Principal Lisa Kunze. "We do have six portables. We're using every room in the building, every space. The auditorium is used as a classroom. We're bursting."

It's not surprise St. Johns County is the fastest growing school district in the state. The district has the highest FCAT scores in Florida and has received an A-rating for the past decade. That success comes with a price.

"We're growing at a rate of about a school a year," said Superintendent Joe Joyner. "We're essentially out of capital dollars to pay for continued schools, and so we've got to look at a long-term solution."

There are currently two K-8 schools under construction in the northern half of the county, but more schools need to be in the pipeline.

Joyner says they're working with state legislators to try to secure funding to help them alleviate some of the overcrowding and expansion and growth

New faces at Cunningham Creek Elementary

It's not only the very first day of school for many students, it's also the first for several teachers and even one principal in St. Johns County.

Although he's not new to education, Jud Strickland is only new principal in St. Johns County, working at Cunningham Creek Elementary.

Strickland had the chance to hire a lot of his staff this year. Some of whom are brand new too; it's their first year ever teaching.

He's a new face around Cunningham Creek Elementary, but it already feels like home for him.

"I think this district right away I've noticed the heart that it has and I've noticed how every department, every teacher, every maintenance worker, food service provider, all shares the same vision and mission," said Jud Strickland.

Strickland's only been principal there for 8 weeks. He's already noticed, all of his 800 plus students, their families and his more than 100 staff members are on board; Success is natural.

"I think our thought here is that we want our students to look back 10, 20, 30 years from now and remember Cunningham Creek with fondness and warmth in their heart and that we really provide students a safe place, a loving place so they have life long memories for them and their families," said Strickland.

Having stellar teachers is the only way Strickland said they can reach that goal. Some of them are also starting their first day of school Monday.

"I'm a little nervous but we're excited. I get to implement everything I learned in college and now I get to use it in the real classroom," said Maegan Cassel.

Cassel just graduated from University of North Florida, but she's also a graduate of Cunningham Creek Elementary.

As she and Strickland both begin their first year leading students there, they share a common goal: Implementing common core standards.

"I think our goal this year as a district is to make sure parents understand common core, the rigor of those standards, and what their students are going to have to produce in the classroom."

Common core is a set of national standards now in all schools in Florida and most states in the country. At Cunningham Creek, students have the privilege of using iPads to get going on that. Cassel is one of three third grade iPad classes.