County’s newest charter school breaks ground

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 12/13/17

FLEMING ISLAND – Next August, in 2018, 350 St. Johns Classical Academy students will welcome an additional 250 peers into their classrooms.

At its current location, Hibernia Baptist Church, this …

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County’s newest charter school breaks ground

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – Next August, in 2018, 350 St. Johns Classical Academy students will welcome an additional 250 peers into their classrooms.

At its current location, Hibernia Baptist Church, this would not be possible, but after roughly six months of construction, the charter school will have a new place to call home, a facility capable of the growth the academy projects it will have.

The Clay County School District officially accepted the school’s charter school proposal in the fall of 2016 with the intention of opening for the current 2017-2018 school year. Principal Michelle Knapp said the school’s first year is proving to be a success. She said not only did the school’s admissions hit capacity, but had to develop a waiting list for those wanting to attend. This success is largely due to the school’s uniqueness, said Knapp.

As only one of three charter schools in the county, with one of those three schools being an online-only charter school, SJCA finds itself able to offer a learning environment that often isn’t found in a more traditional public school. The school is funded by $2 million in funds provided by the Clay County School District.

“Public schools are great for many children and for many, it works just as well as schools like ours,” said Diane Hutchings, the founder and president of SJCA’s board and Clay County Board of Commissioners member. “Public schools are so large that sometimes, kids get lost and we focus on establishing relationships with the students that prevents that from happening.”

Also unlike public schools, the curriculum at SJCA teaches its elementary students Spanish, as well as standards like physical education, art and music, while middle school students are taught Latin. According to Knapp, this is all part of a traditional liberal arts education, which is the education practice followed at SJCA.

More specifically, SJCA’s curriculum follows that of Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative.

“Basically, the Barney Charter School Initiative is a department of Hillsdale College that assists charter schools that are trying to launch around the nation,” Knapp said. “They essentially help us oversee the curriculum.

“They spend time with our teachers doing specialty education development, which includes actual visits from their representatives to give us hands-on help with classical education and a weekly telecom conference call,” Knapp continued.

SJCA applied to the Barney Charter School Initiative and upon acceptance, became the 17th charter school under its umbrella.

On Monday, Dec. 11, the construction of SJCA’s new campus officially broke ground at its new location, the site of the now-defunct Fleming Island Presbyterian Church. As it stands, the former church sanctuary will become SJCA’s cafeteria, among other things. With a $12 million cost, according to Hutchings, and the construction expertise of Summit Construction Group, helmed by developer and contractor Chip Cordes, in the large front yard of the church, a two-story classroom building will be erected to hold the charter school’s projected 650 students.

Reid Norteman, an SJCA student, can’t wait to begin learning at the school’s new facility.

“Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been so excited for the new place to open,” said Norteman. “I just love this school and I’m so excited that it’s going to get even better.”

For Norteman, SJCA has changed the way he’s looked at school.

“The way they treat you here – you don’t feel like a number like you might at some public schools,” Norteman said. “Here, you actually feel like you’re a part of the school and I’m very glad to be taught the way I am taught here.”

Norteman, and his brother Liam Norteman, as well as the rest of the SJCA student body, will be able to tour their new school in June, according to Hutchings. While not sure of exact dates, she does expect construction to end in June and she does plan to allow students and faculty to check it out before the school year starts.

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