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School district strives to keep up with St. Johns County population growth

School board finalizes zone changes to alleviate overcrowded schools

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board finalized school zones during its meeting Tuesday evening as the school district continues to try to keep up with the county's exponential growth. 

Patriot Oaks Academy is one of several schools in St. Johns County over capacity. The K-8 school was in the zone for a new subdivision under construction up the street called The Palisades, which is projected to have more than 100 residents in elementary and middle schools.

But since Patriot Oaks Academy is already about 400 students over capacity, kindergarten through fifth-grade students who move into the development will attend Durbin Creek Elementary School and sixth- through eighth-graders will go to Fruit Cove Middle School. 

"The education is amazing. The schools are staying A-rated schools," said St. Johns County parent Sonia Carroll.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has seen over 20 percent growth since 2010 and the student population is at an all-time high with a 5.4 percent growth increase just this year. 

"We have been the fastest growing school district percentage-wise in the state of Florida for over 10 years," said St. Johns County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner. 

Joyner said the school district loves the growth, but it also brings challenges. 

"We're in the position right now where we have to relocate classrooms," Joyner said. "When we have an influx of new students, we're pretty good at predicting how many were going to get. It's just being able to build them that quickly."

To help, a new elementary school will open in the World Golf Village area in time for the 2017-18 school year.

"With building schools, there's a lot to do a lot to think about but because we have some experience, we're getting pretty good at it. So we expect the elementary (school) to open on time and under budget," Joyner said.

The school district also plans to expand Nease High School, which is one of the county's fastest growing high schools.

"That project is well underway. It's going to have a whole new look for the high school and it's going to expand our capacity so we can meet the needs of these additional students," Joyner said.

Joyner also applauded the half-cent sales tax referendum that was recently passed, saying the $13 million extra it will bring in each year will help the school district keep up with the county’s growth. 

Since Patriot Oaks Academy is one of the county’s K-8 schools that is full, there are two other major projects that will help with the growth. Two new K-8 schools will open for the 2018-19 school year -- one in Nocatee and one in Aberdeen.