New K-8 school under construction in Nocatee

Change in attendance zones means longer commute for Town Center students

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A new K-8 school is set to open in Nocatee for the 2021-22 school year, though not all parents are happy with the attendance zone changes approved by the St. Johns County School Board.

The school, identified as MM until a permanent name is chosen, will be located at 805 Pine Island Road near the extreme southern edge of Nocatee.

In considering which students will attend the new school, the board examined two zoning proposals. The plans are identical with one exception: zoning for most of the Town Center community.

According to the plan approved by the board in December, students living in the Twenty Mile communities, Kelly Pointe, The Palms, Oakwood, Willow Cove, The Reserve and along Ranch Road will continue to attend Palm Valley Academy, located at 700 Bobcat Lane, Ponte Vedra Beach.

Students living in the Crosswater Village communities, Coastal Oaks, Tidewater, Snowden Village and along Pine Island Road will attend the new school.

Generally, this means that Palm Valley Academy will continue to serve the northern areas of Nocatee while the new school will serve the communities to the south.

But Town Center lies at the border between the zones. In one plan, all of the students living there would continue to attend Palm Valley Academy. In the other, all but those living in the west end of Town Center would go to the new school. The board unanimously approved the latter.

A group of residents calling themselves the Nocatee Town Center School Rezoning Coalition opposed the plan. The coalition was founded to give people living in the six neighborhoods at Town Center a unified voice, according to co-chair and parent Melissa Cancio.

“I think we were all disappointed that another solution could not have been found,” said Cancio. “We live so close to their current school, and the new school that they’re being rezoned to is quite a bit of a different distance for us.”

Currently, the commute for Palm Valley Academy students living in Town Center is between one and three miles. The commute for those same students to the new school will be about 10 miles.

Students in Tidewater face a similar situation, though neither zoning plan has them attending Palm Valley Academy.

One of the parameters under consideration by the School Board in making its decision was to assign students to the closest school “to the extent practical.”

“Unfortunately, that is not always possible,” Nicole Cubbedge, executive director for planning and governmental relations, told the board at the Sept. 22 meeting when the plans were presented.

The new attendance zones are meant to plan for growth and relieve overcrowding. The latter is especially apparent as Palm Valley Academy has more than 2,000 students but a capacity of only 1,490.

Under the plan approved by the board, an estimated 1,209 students would remain at that school in 2021-22, while 826 would move to the new school.

The other plan would have left 1,425 students at Palm Valley Academy in 2021-22 and move only 610 to the new school.

Cancio said she doesn’t think this arrangement will last. She expects the new school to be at capacity in a very short time and that the students may have to be moved again.

“We’re a growing community, and so I get that we’re going to have to grow and our kids may have to move,” she said. “I just don’t think that this was the right solution.”

The new school will occupy the fourth such site donated to the district by Nocatee’s developer. The other three are Palm Valley Academy, which opened in 2018; Valley Ridge Academy, which opened in 2014; and Ponte Vedra High School, which opened in 2008.

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