ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved seven new attendance zones that will go into effect in the 2022-23 school year.
They will impact key neighborhoods in overcrowded schools like Freedom Crossing Academy, Hickory Creek Elementary and Palencia Elementary.
These changes are the latest effort to keep up with a county that’s experiencing an explosion of population growth.
The faster that growth happens, the tougher it is to project how fast certain schools are going to fill up and get overcrowded.
The district looked at the schools that were already experiencing overflow -- or getting close to it -- and planned strategic moves to alleviate the crowding.
Three of the changes involve moving children out of Freedom Crossing Academy -- including those who live in the neighborhood of Durbin Creek Estates.
One of the changes -- option one -- rezones Durbin Creek Estates -- as well as the Oakridge Landing neighborhood -- and moves about 240 children over to Patriot Oaks Academy.
As part of option two, more Freedom Crossing Academy students who live in a portion of RiverTown -- about 130 children -- are rezoned to attend Cunningham Creek Elementary or Switzerland Point Middle, depending on their grade level.
Option five rezones 162 students from Hickory Creek Elementary to Julington Creek Elementary.
Option seven moves a handful of students into Liberty Pines Academy from nearby two nearby schools -- Palencia Elementary and Pacetti Bay Middle
And option nine adds students to Liberty Pines Academy from Ocean Palms Elementary and Landrum Middle schools.
The St. Johns County School District also has to look ahead to neighborhoods that are under construction.
Also to cut down on the students at Freedom Crossing Academy, option three rezones the Middlebourne neighborhood that’s under development, so that when families do move in there, they’ll go to Patriot Oaks Academy instead. More than 300 students are projected to move into the Middlebourne neighborhood when it’s finished.
The Cordova Palms neighborhood is also unfinished, and option 8 zones the students that move in there to Crookshank Elementary, Sevastian Middle and St. Augustine High.
Superintendent Tim Forson said families in the district should expect more rezoning changes in the future.
“If they’re coming in, in primary grades K, one or two, there’s a good chance that can be impacted at some point before they graduate,” Forson said. “I mean, that’s just the growth rate. That’s how fast we’re growing.”
News4JAX spoke with St. Johns County parent Charles Webb. He has lived in the Oakridge Landing neighborhood for about five years, and in that time, his daughter, who is now finishing seventh grade, has already had to be switched to a new school attendance zone once.
“I mean, there are challenges with it -- nothing that’s insurmountable,” Webb said. “But there are challenges.”
Since Webb’s daughter is heading into her last year of middle school, she’s exempt from having to move again. Webb said that while it’s a hassle to move schools, he understands why it’s necessary.
“I mean, the decisions that aren’t easy for the school board, I’m glad they get input,” Webb said. “But they’re definitely challenging. I mean, how do you break it up?”
That’s the question district officials have been facing as they’re presented with new challenges every year with more development on the county’s northside.
“So we knew that if we’re not going to be able to open a new school until 2024, that we need to make some adjustments now, in both the northwest and kind of the north-central part of the school district where growth is just so rapid right now,” Forson said.
Earlier this year, the school board released a list of nine proposed changes to school maps, rejecting two -- options four and six -- last month because there wasn’t enough support for either.
And last week, the school district announced plans to add two more new schools to the district to manage the staggering growth that’s led to overcrowding in schools.
The two new K-8 schools, along with another K-8, will all be built in the northwestern part of the county where most of that growth is concentrated. Parents in one large neighborhood say it’s about time.
The school district said the schools are desperately needed because the student population has grown 7% in the last year and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The district has added more than 13,000 students in the last 10 years.
The county expects to spend about $193 million on the three new K-8 schools and hopes to start getting bids for construction in the coming months.
In the long term, the district expects to build 19 new schools and expand two others over the next 20 years.