Discovery Oaks by the Numbers:
862 student capacity
114,000-plus square feet
$25 million construction cost
Serving Pre-K through 6th …
OAKLEAF – After a two-month search, School Superintendent Addison Davis discovered what he believes is the perfect candidate for Clay County’s newest school.
Tracy McLaughlin, former principal of Ridgeview Elementary and Clay County School District 2017 Principal of the Year, will be the first principal of Discovery Oaks Elementary School. The $25 million school is currently under construction in the Eagle Landing area of Oakleaf and is on track to open this coming August.
‘I’m extremely excited and honored to represent the district and open a new school,” McLaughlin said. “As it’s becoming more and more apparent, it’s a big responsibility. We’re making a lot of decisions, not only what we are going to put in the classroom, but what curriculum are we going to lead with.”
Discovery Oaks is the first new school to be built in Clay County since Oakleaf High opened on August 26, 2010 for the 2010-11 school year. The school will help ease crowding at other Oakleaf area elementary schools, including Plantation Oaks and Oakleaf Village.
McLaughlin, who has spent the last four years as Ridgeview Elementary’s principal, is a seasoned educator with 25 years in education, with 12 of those years being in Clay County. She started her career in Clay as the assistant principal of Montclair Elementary and was then promoted to serve as principal of Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School where she was for four years. She started her career teaching high school English and ESE in Maine. When she started looking for a job in Florida, McLaughlin felt she could make a bigger difference as an administrator.
“In the classroom you make a significant impact on a group of about 25 to 30 kiddos a year,” McLaughlin said. “I knew for myself that I always liked the bigger picture and the bigger vision. I felt that I had the skill set and the knowledge and experience to offer more.”
McLaughlin’s performance after settling in Clay proved that this was more than just a feeling. Under her leadership, Ridgeview Elementary improved 134 points making it an A school in one year.
Superintendent Addison Davis said McLaughlin’s ability to impact school culture, as well as create and envision goals, separated her from the other candidates.
“We’re fortunate to have a veteran principal,” Davis said. “She’ll use those tools to create one of the best elementary schools in the state.”
The current vision calls for developing Discovery Oaks as a STEAM school where Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math are the driving force behind curriculum. McLaughlin believes she has a strong vision for Discovery Oaks, but her main concern is creating an environment conducive to learning.
“Building a positive culture is really important,” McLaughlin said. “Leadership is about inspiring others to follow. You can’t lead people if they don’t believe in your message. I think that building a positive culture has always been really important to me.”
As McLaughlin gears up to make the transition to Discovery Oaks, she leaves Ridgeview Elementary in equally capable hands. Heather Roche, a Florida native with 12 years of experience in Clay County Schools, is already on the job as Ridgeview’s principal.
“I’m fortunate to be taking over [as principal] mid-year when the wheels are already in motion,” Roche said. “Things are running smoothly here, so right now my focus is to build relationships with the community.”
Roche previously served as Coppergate Elementary School’s assistant principal, but she started her career in at Tynes Elementary, where she served as a reading coach before moving into administration.
Like McLaughlin, Roche strives to create a positive learning environment and is grateful for McLaughlin’s work.
“What Ridgeview is doing and has been doing is working well,” Roche said. “One [goal] is to maintain a positive morale and culture here for the staff and the students. I want it to be a positive place to learn and where student achievement is a high priority.”
Davis said the district used the same process to find candidates for McLaughlin’s replacement as they did for finding the new principal for Discovery Oaks.
“[Roche’s] knowledge of how to work as an instructional coach allowed her to build the capacity of her staff members while also building a culture of care,” said Davis, adding that Roche will continue McLaughlin’s work.