Tim Forson is the superintendent of the St. Johns County School District.
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
I’m born and raised here. I’ve lived my entire life in St. Johns County, except for going away to college. I raised a family here; I have four adult children and two young children. I began as a teacher and a coach and moved through the organization. This is my 39th year in the St. Johns County School District.
What’s your vision for the school district?
My vision is just to ensure that every student has a path that they can be successful on. When you’re 40,000 students strong, that can mean a lot of different things to different children and different families. So, our goal is to try to be the right school district for each child.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s being in schools, getting to meet with students, getting their input and just having those conversations. It still goes back to where you start. You start because you enjoy being around students and being in that classroom environment.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing today?
I think one of them is a challenge we’ve faced probably for the past 10 to 15 years and that’s growth. It’s trying to stay ahead of the growth and make sure that we have all of the facilities that we need, that we respond in a way to have all the teachers and support staff that we need to serve our children. For us, that’s a big task. We’re talking about growing by more than a school a year. In the past 10 years, there’s almost always been at least one major construction project underway. This year, we opened two K-8 schools that have that capacity of 1,500 students. I feel like, for the moment, we’re in a good place.
What’s the strategy for future growth?
I think one of the things we do well is we have a great growth management leadership and department, and they work hard to try to anticipate where that growth is going to be next. Where is the next stress going to be to our system? If we can get ahead by construction of a new school or additions to existing schools, we try to do that. Some of it is also rezoning students to get to keeping balance in schools. That’s never popular for families and parents, but I think it’s necessary as we move forward into the future.
How do you balance high expectations for students with mental health?
I think that’s a balance point we’re all looking for right now. In the past year, we’ve had numerous conversations with students, high school students especially, who have stressed the concern about the pace of their life, the number of things that are on their calendars and how they move forward and that expectation to be the very best and to be at the top. It’s something that we have to help kids regulate better, to try to slow things down a little bit and be reflective. Understand that it’s not a fast race; it’s a matter of being what’s right for every child. We’ve added resources in our school district to help on the mental health side. But a lot of times, that’s responsive to kids who are already feeling stress. So, I think over time we have to do more and more on the social-emotional learning part of our schools and classrooms.
What is the district doing to keep kids safe?
Every school district in the state of Florida has had to work hard to deal with that in the past year. When you have a school shooting that’s as close to home as one that occurs in Florida, it brings new attention to that. Even before the Parkland shooting, we were working hard to improve our facilities and to make sure check-in procedures were consistent and safe. I think the fact that we have armed personnel at every school helps moms and dads to know that we have somebody there to protect their child should something terrible happen.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in St. Johns County?
This is a very fortunate place to live. I love St. Johns County. I stayed here when I had choices to move elsewhere, but this is a place I wanted to raise a family. I love the school system and I’m proud of it, but I’m proud of the community as a whole. This is a just great place to raise a family, and that’s what makes it a great place to live and work.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have a 3-year-old and a 10-year-old at home, so I enjoy spending time with them. I also enjoy fishing and surfing and those kinds of things that I can do when I can. But most of it centers around being with my family.