JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Over the years, the River City has become a destination for new residents. But with that growth came growing pains, especially in education.
According to the 2020 US Census, Duval County is home to 995,567 people. In 2010, that number was 864,253. That’s an increase of about 15%, and over 20% are under the age of 18.
Public schools in Duval County serve a total of 130,000 students. The district’s “Facilities Master Plan” aims to find a place of learning for these students.
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DCPS is one of the largest districts in the state, but it has some of the oldest schools. Waterleaf Elementary is the newest facility, built a decade ago.
“The challenges don’t change just because we grow. We just have more, ”said Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.
The 15-year plan indicates where the district expects the greatest growth. As the south side and beaches develop, the urban corridor is consolidating, according to Greene.
For example, the first draft of the plan at Rutledge Pearson Elementary will consolidate the school with Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry F. Kite Elementary.
“It was more profitable to build a whole new school than it was to try to renovate or repair to bring these schools up to standard,” said Dr Greene. “The Master Facility Plan is a living document. It will change.”
The plan also includes expansion projects. Sandalwood High School is one of the largest schools in the district, with nearly 3,000 students. Some of them are currently learning in portable classrooms. However, a soon-to-be-launched project will add up to 40 new classrooms to replace laptops.
The funding comes from the half-cent sales tax, which voters approved in 2020. This will help pay for more than two dozen schools over the next 15 years.
After construction, Greene said the district would then consider hiring. In a high school classroom, a teacher is responsible for 25 students, a ratio mandated by the state.
“Best case scenario: We are hitting these numbers in every classroom. But we know it isn’t, ”Greene said.
A nationwide teacher shortage is putting these smaller classes at risk, forcing district leaders to look beyond books to hire.
“It has been very difficult this school year to hire enough teachers to support the growth that we are seeing this year,” said Greene.
They are especially in need of paraprofessionals. There are over 260 vacancies this year and the district recently increased the salary to $ 15 an hour.
“Our paraprofessionals are imperative. They are that second pair of eyes and hands that provide support in the classroom, ”said Greene.
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To fill the gap, DCPS recently contracted with Elevate K-12, a program that allows teachers to be broadcast virtually in the classroom with the help of in-person substitutes.
“These teachers are certified in the state of Florida. But they might not live in the state of Florida. Greene said this innovation would help solve the shortage.
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