Parents weigh in as school district considers new zoning options

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM Durbin Crossing South resident Tina Brown, the mother of two sixth grade students and an eighth grade student at Patriot Oaks Academy speaks out against rezoning in the area during a town-hall meeting at Creekside High School on Tuesday, September 5, 2017. Brown stated that her children have attended three different K-8 schools due to rezoning of their neighborhood, and that it would be damaging to move children to a fourth school in such a short period of time.

The St. Johns County School District is considering several changes to its zoning map for the 2018-19 school year to address current overcrowding and future growth, particularly at schools in the northern part of the county.

 

And some parents aren’t thrilled with the proposed plans, as they told District officials earlier this week.

At the first of three scheduled town-hall style meetings Tuesday night, the district outlined potential plans that would transfer students into the two new K-8 schools set to open next August from other area elementary and middle schools. Both School “LL” located in Aberdeen and School “KK” in Nocatee will each add an additional 1,490 student seats.

District officials are proposing that LL, at 1365 Shetland Dr., would draw students from Aberdeen, Julington Lakes, the western portion of Durbin Crossing and an as-yet undeveloped area near Creekside High School. The school is projected to open with approximately 1,042 students in grades K-7 for the first year only. Next year’s eighth-graders will be allowed to attend the school they are currently zoned for.

School KK, at 2135 Palm Valley Rd., will relocate students from Town Center residential neighborhoods, as well as Willow Cove, Tidewater, Coastal Oaks, Twenty Mile Village, Kelly Pointe and The Palms. The district anticipates about 1,219 students in grades K-7 will be enrolled in KK for 2018-19, with eighth-graders remaining in their current school for the first year.

As with any rezoning, the school district tries to keep “neighborhood units in the same attendance zone to the extent possible,” according to school board policy.

Other considerations include maintaining demographic balance as well as transportation efficiencies across all schools.

Following the presentation Tuesday night at Creekside High School, the floor was opened up to public comment.

Kristen Brandt, a parent who lives in Durbin Crossing South, said she felt her neighborhood was being “picked on” by the district, with this being the fourth rezoning contemplated for the community in recent years.

“It’s hard enough being a kid, but to keep getting switched to a different school is tough,” said Brandt. “It’s not fair.”

Brandt’s comments were echoed by more than a dozen other community members from Durbin Crossing, with some saying they had moved to the development specifically so their children could have a cohesive school experience.

St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools Tim Forson told parents in attendance that he understood changing schools can be challenging for kids but given the influx of students moving into the district in recent years, “It’s just a part of growth.”

Forson said school officials would be looking to get more feedback from the community at the other two town hall meetings, one scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at Valley Ridge Academy, located at 105 Greenleaf Drive, Ponte Vedra. The last meeting will be Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at First Coast Technical College, Building C, located at 2980 Collins Ave., St. Augustine.

“We are committed to getting it right, but there are real number issues to getting it right,” Forson added.

The district is also looking to “realign” its attendance zoning with slight tweaks to student counts in schools in the St. Augustine area. Approximately 12 new elementary students are projected to enter the school district in 2018-19 from Sawmill Landing, a subdivision with 100 single-family homes on State Road 207. Those students are currently zoned for either Otis Mason Elementary School or The Webster School. The district is recommending they go to Otis Mason.

Heritage Park is expected to add 75 middle school students to the district from Heritage Park, located off Woodland Road near State Road 16. The neighborhood is currently zoned for Murray Middle School but is within walking distance of Sebastian Middle School, which is where administrators are proposing the zoning be changed to; that would bring Sebastian’s total enrollment to about 728 students for 2018-19.

A PowerPoint of the zoning presentation is posted on the district website and available at http://bit.ly/2xcfES8. Public comments will be accepted by email and at upcoming school board meetings. The school board said it hopes to approve attendance zone changes at its Nov. 14 meeting.

 

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