Clay County, FL - While Duval and St. Johns schools prepare to open their doors Monday morning, Clay County’s doors have been open nearly one week, and school officials are happy with what they’re seeing.
Clay Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. tells me one of the most exciting pieces of news so far surrounds enrollment numbers. While the overall number is still dropping, it’s far less than what they had expected. Van Zant says they’ve had 435 more students enroll than they projected, but that’s not to say there’s much scrambling to find space.
“We are prepared for the amount of students we have,” he says.
In fact, while they should be adequately staffed, Van Zant tells me he will be looking at whether teachers need to be moving from lesser enrolled schools to once closer to capacity, and they are not closed to the possibility of even hiring more once enrollment is more level.
In fact he expects in just a few weeks, that enrollment will creep up pretty close to the number we saw last year, which would reverse a downward trend.
“The last several years we had gone down in enrollment 500-600 students per year,” he says.
He says this is good news for the Clay County tax payers, even those without children, because they are making better use of all the school facilities where, in past years, some have been underutilized because of enrollment. He says it could also show better job prospects in the area, with families settling down rather than moving away for work.
When it comes to what’s happening in those classrooms, Van Zant tells me there is still work to be done. He’s focused on three key areas: writing, professional development and student engagement.
One of the biggest challenges Clay schools faced was, given the new criteria to assess key tests, the writing scores didn’t stack up to where they need to be. He says that’s a two-fold process that will be addressed mainly through an increase in writing and critical thinking in the classroom, but also at the teaching level.
“Our training and professional development has not kept pace with the raising of the assessment bar,” Van Zant says.
He says teachers have already been given some professional development opportunities over the summer. They are also going to be using “professional learning communities” this year, with a greater emphasis on teamwork and collaboration among instructors and administrators.