By: Mary Vega (Web Editor)
The St. Johns County School District is planning to open a new high school near World Golf Village, which will be their first new high school since Creekside High School and Ponte Vedra High School opened in 2008.
This new high school is expected to open in 2021, just two years before the graduation of the class of 2023. This means that many freshmen currently attending Nease may finish their high school years at this new school. The exact zoning laws have not been decided yet, but the high school is meant to draw students mainly from Nease and Bartram Trail which are both currently about 20% over capacity. The populations at Nease and Bartram Trail are expected to drop substantially when the new high school opens, which should make school days less chaotic for students and administration.
Nease High School opened in 1984 and was made to accommodate 1,500 students, but with over 2,500 students enrolled this school year, it is well over capacity. In 2000, Bartram Trail High School opened with the intent of alleviating over-crowding at Nease, having also been built to hold 1,500 students, but now Bartram Trail is the most over populated school in St Johns County, with Nease being a close second. Nease High School is currently zoned for six communities: Palencia, Nocatee, Ponte Vedra, Las Calinas, and World Golf Village. With these being some of the fastest growing communities in St. Johns County, Nease is gaining close to 1,000 students each new year, while only losing around 700. The new high school will most likely be zoned for World Golf Village, which will likely decrease Nease’s incoming class size every year by quite a bit.
While the new high school will significantly decrease the population at Nease, the school will probably still be over capacity, but by a significantly smaller amount. School board member Beverly Slough said, “If we could have perfection, it would be 1,500 to 1,700 [students per school], but I don’t think that is ever going to happen again, realistically.” So while the school will be much less crowded, Nease will probably still be a bit over populated due to the rapid growth of the communities around it.
Having less students attending Nease will have many different effects on the school. For instance, one big problem that students at Nease face is trying to navigate the hallways and get to class on time. While the schedule was modified over the summer to give students an extra minute in between classes, navigating the hallways can still be tough because of how crowded they are. Having fewer students at Nease will make walking in the hallways much easier. Another effect this new school will have on Nease is it will create a better learning environment for students. Currently the average student to teacher ratio at Nease is 23:1 for core classes such as math, english, science, and history, but in elective classes or academies there can be as many as 30 students with one teacher. This can make a dysfunctional learning environment because if there are a lot of students in a class, the teacher cannot give as much attention to each student. Smaller elective or academy classes will allow the teacher to give more attention to each individual student, so they all can succeed in the class.
While the new high school will have many positive effects on the Nease community, there are some negative effects as well. With less students and a new school, Nease may get less funding from the district. Schools are paid based on their attendance every school day, and a larger school such as Nease is given a higher budget than smaller schools like Ponte Vedra High, in order to properly accommodate all the students. With a new high school, the district will have to divide up their money another way, and Nease’s budget, along with other schools’, may be cut significantly. Another way the new high school could potentially affect Nease in a bad way is through athletics. Due to the number of students attending Nease, most of the sports teams have lots of members and they are mostly successful. Because of the population at Nease and the athletic success within the school, Nease has an athletic ranking of 4a. This ranking is largely based on enrollment and how many people at the school are involved in sports. Nease has this ranking because it is one of the largest schools in St. Johns County, but when the new school opens, many athletes that would be attending Nease will be rezoned for the new school, causing Nease’s ranking to possibly go down. However, the new school is only in the early stages of development, so nothing can be confirmed or denied quite yet about how the new high school will affect other schools in the district.
Although construction has not begun, the district has released information about where the high school will be built. The district purchased a 68.7 acre cow pasture from Pacetti Property LLC for the site of the new high school, which is located on International Golf Parkway and was purchased for just over $7 million. In order for the school to open in time for the 2021-2022 school year, construction is projected to start in late fall or early winter of this year and will continue with an “aggressive” schedule until the school is ready to open.
In the last year, St Johns County gained 11,000 residents and according to The St. Augustine Record, St. Johns county is predicted to continue gaining residents at this rate until the year 2030. Last school year, there were 12,102 students enrolled in St Johns County high schools, and that number increased dramatically at the start of this 2019-2020 school year, with an almost 900 student freshman class enrolled in Nease alone, and new students enrolling from other counties or states. This growing population means that St Johns County is truly in desperate need for not only high schools, but schools of every grade. Especially considering all the growing communities such as Nocatee, RiverTown, and SilverLeaf that have already amassed residents, but can gain thousands more in the next decade or so. The district has said that this new high school will be essential in making sure every student gets an equal education, but in the next 5-7 years another new high school will be required.
Photo Credit: Mary Vega
Caption: A mass of students crowding under the front pavilion at Nease.