August 28, 2008

Fine-Tuning, Not New Schools, on Clay’s Agenda After 2010 Boundaries Could Change, Elementaries Could Lose Sixth Grade.


Since 2000, the Clay County school district has opened at least one new public school almost every year, occasionally two simultaneously.

That's the fast-paced school construction schedule the county's fast-paced growth demanded.

But growth has slowed to a crawl. Two new schools are under construction - Plantation Oaks Elementary, to open in 2009, and OakLeaf High, to open in 2010. But if current growth trends continue, there may be no more new school openings for at least three years after that, possibly longer.

"We've been cranking out a school a year," Jim Connell, director of facility planning and construction, told School Board members last week. "But we won't be opening another school until after 2013."

Also, the district will not be purchasing any more portable classrooms over the next five years, he said. And given financial breathing room on new construction, district officials hope to dedicate more attention - and funding - to maintenance and upgrades.

Despite the growth slowdown, the School Board still faces some tough school-capacity decisions.

Some schools remain overcrowded, while others have too few students. State requirements for balanced enrollment throughout the county will force the board to consider several options: redraw some school attendance boundaries, expand certain schools' cafeteria space to allow increased enrollment and reconfigure school grade levels in some parts of the county.

"This is very conceptual," Connell said. "We're looking at moving folks from where there is overcrowding to where we have space."

Grade reconfiguration would be a "drastic change," but may make sense, he said. The current structure is kindergarten-sixth grade at most elementaries, seventh-eighth grade at junior highs and ninth- 12th grade at senior highs, but Clay earlier had middle schools with sixth-eighth grades.

Among the capacity-related possibilities:

- Move Argyle Elementary and Tynes Elementary sixth-graders to The OakLeaf School, after that school's kindergarten-fifth grades are shifted to Plantation Oaks Elementary when it opens in 2009. OakLeaf would be a junior high with sixth-eighth grades; the three elementaries would be kindergarten-fifth grades.

- Use Keystone Heights Elementary, Keystone Heights Junior- Senior High and possibly a newly constructed building nearby to create a new grade structure: kindergarten-fifth grade, sixth- eighth grade and ninth- 12th grade.

- Expand the cramped cafeteria at Doctors Inlet Elementary to allow increased enrollment or shift some students to RideOut Elementary.

Also up for discussion are the attendance boundaries for OakLeaf High School, which could impact every high school in the county except Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High.

"All of this is going to take lots of discussion," Connell said.

The discussions will begin in September and continue through December, to allow input from the newly elected school superintendent. Superintendent David Owens, who is retiring, leaves office in November.NEW CLAY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS SINCE 20002000- 01: Thunderbolt Elementary School2001-02: RideOut Elementary School2002-03: None2003-04: Fleming Island High School2004-05: Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School2005-06: Argyle Elementary School, Lake Asbury Junior High School2006-07: OakLeaf School (kindergarten-eighth grade)2007-08: Coppergate Elementary School2008- 09: Shadowlawn Elementary School, OakLeaf Village Elementary School2009-10 (under construction): Plantation Oaks Elementary Oak2010-11 (under construction): OakLeaf High School

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