How SJCSD is Responding to Rapid Population Growth
By Jackson Gianchetta
As the population spikes within St. John’s County, St. John’s County School District is working to provide for an influx of new students. The school district opened Beachside High School at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year in order to help relieve overcrowding at Nease High School. The school, which will serve around 2,000 students, opens just a year after Tocoi Creek High School, another school recently built to help accommodate this recent growth and relieve overcrowding at both Nease and Bartram Trail High Schools.
St. Johns county is experiencing some of the largest growth in the country. It ranks first in Florida and in the top five percent of counties nationwide in terms of recent population growth. In the last ten years, the population within St. John’s County has increased to an estimated 270,000 residents. That’s up from 2011 when it was reported that the county had about 190,0000 total residents. In that same period, the number of students within the district increased by around 10,000, requiring the opening of new schools across the county in order to meet the needs of the massive influx of new students, especially in the northern half of the county.
On top of Tocoi and Beachside, the district has announced plans to open a total of 11 new schools, including two additional high schools over the next ten years.
The district is also focusing on improving its infrastructure amidst this growth. Prior to the school year, the district added over 100 new portable classrooms to existing schools. According to District Superintendent Tim Forson, “This was probably 30 to 40 more relocatable classrooms than we’ve ever added in a summer.”
Additionally, staff shortages nationwide have made accommodating growth even more challenging for the district, which is starting the school year with five fewer bus routes and 11 fewer bus drivers than the year before. The school district also announced that it had 49 vacancies at the beginning of the school year. Ponte Vedra High School has only one teaching vacancy remaining, a position in the ESE department.
Ponte Vedra High School has been less affected by this growth than some other schools around the county. While its total student population is at its highest ever, the school is growing at a much slower pace than other high schools in the southern part of St. John’s County. Dr. Fredrik Oberkehr, the principal at Ponte Vedra High School described this growth as “Much more manageable than other high schools within the county, where the growth is crazy.” Dr. Oberkehr attributed this slower growth rate to the already developed nature of the county, “Ponte Vedra High School is mostly built out. We are experiencing a little growth, however the majority of the growth within St. Johns County is in lower parts of the county where it’s not as built out.”
The St. Johns County School District admits that they are working through some growing pains. Superintendent Forson, at the school board meeting last August, asked for “patience from parents and community members” as the district works to adequately provide for incoming students.
Pictured- Beachside High School