Addressing overcrowding at Oakleaf High

School board hosting town hall to discuss plans

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opclfa.com
Posted 1/20/21

CLAY COUNTY – The school district soon will hold a town hall with Oakleaf parents about redrawing boundary lines that may mean their children will attend a different school.

The town hall will …

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Addressing overcrowding at Oakleaf High

School board hosting town hall to discuss plans

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – The school district soon will hold a town hall with Oakleaf parents about redrawing boundary lines that may mean their children will attend a different school.

The town hall will be on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at Oakleaf High, and the parents with school children in the Oakleaf area are invited. Incoming seniors will have the option to go to a different school after the boundary lines are redrawn but their spots at the original school is guaranteed. All other students may be affected, so the district is more interested in hearing from those parents.

“The school, simply put, is full and it’s continuing to fill up,” Clay County School District Coordinator of Planning and Intergovernmental Relations James Fossa said. “They’ve got kids everywhere and I was tasked with coming up with ways to get that capacity rate down.”

Fossa presented several options to the school board during a workshop last week, and of the three options, the school board was heavily in favor of one that will send 362 students at Oakleaf High to Ridgeview. Oakleaf is significantly more overcrowded than any other high school in the district with a capacity rate of 106%. Fossa says it would grow to 115% if it’s not addressed. Meanwhile, Ridgeview’s capacity is at 67%.

The remedy is to move boundary sections 9A and 26, which is made up of the Pine Ridge neighborhoods, Two Creeks, Fox Meadow and Whisper Creek, to Ridgeview. If those 362 students were moved to Ridgeview, Oakleaf High’s capacity would drop to 92% and Ridgeview would grow to 84%.

The other options included moving Oakleaf students to Orange Park High, and a hybrid of the Ridgeview option, but the board concluded the Ridgeview option was the most desirable.

“Option 1 makes the most sense of them,” board member Ashley Gilhousen said. “I think it seems to be the fairest when I think about what’s offered at Oakleaf versus what’s offered at Ridgeview. You have the IB program which is comparable to AICE and even the travel time is shorter instead of longer.”

Board member Janice Kerekes said she was frustrated the district waited so long to address it because she said it now feels like the district is rushing to remedy the problem. She said ideally the district takes another year to discuss more in-depth with parents about the boundary lines and student movements, but that she understands the district has to move fast to remove the strain felt at Oakleaf.

The board could simply could have voted to recommend the Ridgeview option at its Jan. 26 meeting. A second vote to approved to plan would follow in March, but the board decided to put a town hall on the calendar to hear what parents and students think. Fossa said neither option is set in stone and what the parents say at the town hall will likely help influence the board’s decision. The decision will ultimately up to the five board members in March. Oakleaf is just one of the problems the district is currently facing in terms of capacity. Not far behind is the Lake Asbury area, which Fossa said is the epicenter of the county’s incoming growth.

Fossa said that Lake Asbury Junior High is currently at 83% capacity but if left untouched, it will rise to 113% with incoming developments. The option Fossa presented would have some Lake Asbury students diverted to Lakeside Junior High. The board didn’t like it as much as the Oakleaf plan, but it did decide it will make moves for the school in such a way that it doesn’t affect the students currently attending.

Fossa said the board is shooting for an effect of change for the 2022-23 school year as a result. He said a town hall and many other meetings will likely be held before such a decision is made, much in the same way the district is having a town hall before making its decision.

The final piece to the district’s boundary stress is Keystone Heights. Fossa said the district looked at two things when figuring out capacity: the Florida Inventory School House number, which is the number of seats at the school for children in classrooms, and the cafeteria size. He said whichever is lower is the number used for capacity.

Keystone Height Junior Senior High’s capacity appears higher than it actually is because its cafeteria is quite small.

“That’s the cue for us to make more room for the cafeteria,” Fossa said.

Instead of building a larger cafeteria, the district may build a dedicated junior high. Fossa said this idea stemmed from a piece of land by the McDavid Park baseball field which has the potential to be a school. He said it could work out but that there’s a lot of questions that must be answered before the district can even consider that land as the site of a new school.

One question with the new school was: can the parent pick up line intersect with the school bus line? “It can’t do that,” Fossa said. “Does it have the required amount of land drainage after a storm?

“While it might look good on paper, there’s a lot that can get in the way of building a school there. So now, our goal with that is to get a professional architect out there for a feasibility study. Once we have those results, then we can go from there.”

Oakleaf and Lake Asbury are just a few of the capacity-related dilemmas the district is facing as the county continues to grow. There are elementary schools like Tynes, Lake Asbury and Patterson with high capacities that need remedying as well. Fossa said the district is actively working to solve those challenges while also preparing for the arrival of School R, which is a new school on County Road 315C set to open for the 2023-2024 school year.

The district will likely be utilizing its full arsenal of tools to satisfy all capacities and parties: town halls, workshops, board meetings and above all else, communication with those that this affects.

The board has made it clear that it wants to hear the voices of those with children at these schools and it’s these voices that will shape the future of the Clay County School Districts boundaries.

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