At a Tuesday, Nov. 14 meeting, the St. Johns County School Board voted unanimously to approve the school district’s proposed attendance zoning changes for the 2018-2019 school year. A response to the growing problem of overcrowding throughout the district, the changes have been the subject of controversy since they were first announced earlier this year.
The approved plans include zoning for two new K-8 schools, currently dubbed “KK” and “LL,” and will mainly impact elementary and middle school students. Some changes will include rezoning Nocatee’s Willowcove neighborhood from Valley Ridge Academy to the new KK school and the removal of all Nocatee neighborhoods from Alice B. Landrum Middle School’s attendance zone, among others. (The complete 2018-2019 attendance zoning plan can be viewed on the St. Johns County School District website at www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/zoning.)
On Nov. 9, Superintendent Tim Forson notified St. Johns County parents of the addition of a grandfathering provision to the district’s proposal, which will allow current sixth-and seventh-grade students in rezoned neighborhoods to stay at their current schools until they move on to high school. Because of the provision, the new K-8 schools will instead open for grades K-6, and subsequently add seventh-and eighth-graders over the next two school years.
“This proposal will provide educational, social and emotional stability during pivotal transition years for these students,” Forson said.
While that provision seems to have appeased some parents, however, others are still voicing concerns.
“My community and myself do not feel like we’ve had an open dialogue,” said Nocatee resident Denver Cook, who intends to run for St. Johns County School Board next year. “These rezoning processes happened quickly, short-term, with minimal time for us to provide input or even come together and have conversations in our communities to develop what might be better plans for us, our neighbors and our children. … We need to do this differently.”
Kelly Barrera, the school board representative for District 4, said she felt that the district had done all they could to create an open dialogue with the community.
“I appreciated the time and effort district staff took to analyze community feedback received through several group and individual meetings, school district town hall meetings, public comments at school board meetings and workshops and email and written communication as relayed to school board members,” she said. “I also responded to parents via email, phone and in face-to-face meetings to answer questions, connect them to specific departmental district staff and to listen to their concerns.”
As for the zoning changes, Barrera added that the addition of the grandfathering provision was a result of research and feedback received from the community, and that she felt it was good compromise that would remove the possible negative impacts of uprooting middle school students too frequently. Although she expressed regret that Nocatee’s Willowcove neighborhood would no longer be zoned for Valley Ridge Academy, Barerra said that overall, she thought the approved plans were the district’s best step forward in combating the increasing issue of overcrowding throughout St. Johns County schools.
“With the current explosive growth in our area, by moving incrementally, we can build the school community as the school population grows in size,” she said. “It will allow the students, teachers, staff and administration to settle into the school and focus on deliberate practices and extracurricular opportunities for those students as their grade range expands.”