It is the first day of the 2017-2018 academic year in Nassau County and the big news for the district is the opening of the new Wildlight Elementary School in Yulee with 610 students, according to an early morning estimate provided by Principal Scott Hodges.
Mr. Hodges reported a smooth beginning to the day, giving credit to the design of a long roadway (Curiosity Dr.) that easily accommodated the line-up of vehicles shuttling students by car, truck, and bus to school for the 8:00 a.m. start.
“We’re off and running and it’s been great so far,” he said.
The K-5 school – now the home of the ‘Trailblazers’ and its wild horse mascot – is located one mile north of SR 200/AIA within Rayonier, Inc.’s Wildlight District, at the edge of a 24,000-acre pine forest that’s being cleared for a huge planned development between Yulee and the state line that will include residential, commercial, and industrial development, expected over the next 30 to 50 years.
The school, which was first planned several years ago under a proposal by Rayonier for the district to build the school on the company’s donated land, is bright and spacious. There is a lobby for students flanked by glass doors with access to the media center where a 3-D printer awaits its first assignment.
The main office features a long reception desk and enough room for dozens of visitors. Administrators answered phones and helped parents looking for bus assignments, working under a five-paneled image of a galloping white horse. The school’s resource officer, a young-looking Nassau County sheriff’s deputy, stood nearby, typing on a laptop. The entry door is locked and staff buzzed in people who rang the bell.
The lobby has modern upholstered furnishings and a pair of water fountains mounted at heights to accommodate tall and short people under the school logo – a stylized blue horse head – and the phrase: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Actively Engaged.
The walls also hold the alphabet. And yes, there is an inspirational quote: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
In a brief tour Thursday morning, Mr. Hodges said the school has 31 homerooms, 36 instructors, 28 staff members, including administrators, cafeteria workers, and janitorial staff, and a half dozen other workers that provide special services, such as speech and language.
“We’re employing about 70 people here,” he said. “It’s going to be a busy place.”
At the cafeteria, which does double duty as the school’s auditorium, workers were preparing for lunch. The first service, said Mr. Hodges, begins at 10:30 a.m.
Moving through the building, Mr. Hodges used keys to open locked doors. He has as many as a night watchman on a belt-ring. He said electronic systems can falter. “The tried and true way probably saves the district money,” he said.
Has Superintendent Kathy Burns been by for a visit?
“She has been here but I haven’t seen her yet today,” he said. “She doesn’t usually call me (to announce her arrival). She could be here now.”
Officials are scheduled to hold a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 9:00 a.m. On Wednesday, staff held an orientation for parents and students to see the school and meet instructors. Mr. Hodges estimated that more than 90 percent of parents attended the meet-and-greet and their top question: Where will their child will attend middle school?
“We tell them Yulee (Intermediary),” he said. “That’s the plan now.”
Mr. Hodges, who previously worked as principal at Yulee Primary School, said he has spent the last 35 days at the new building.
“There’s a lot to do,” he said.
Parents said the effort has paid off.
“I’m impressed,” said Jenny Harrison, who walked out of the building with her husband Josh Harrison, after dropping off two of their children – Genevieve, 7, and Malachi, 6 – for their first day.
“It’s so open and bright and the classrooms are big,” she said. “The teachers seem great.”
“We’re excited to be here,” said Mr. Harrison.
Previously, the couple’s children attended Yulee Primary School. The live in a subdivision west of I-95. Wildlight District doesn’t yet have any subdivisions, though they’re expected. And, once they arrive, those students living in the district will have first dibs on a desk at the school. Under the contract with Rayonier in exchange for some 25 acres, school officials were to pull students from surrounding schools and send them to Wildlight.
The district created a new zone in the surrounding Yulee area. But students are also coming from the county’s far northwest side.
Jammie Deangelis of Hilliard and Randy Waits said their 9-year-old son is attending the school and will participate in a special needs programs, including speech and occupational therapy.
“I like it so far,” she said. “This seems like a really nice school.”
Randy Waits, said the school, “ids nice and big but cold.”
Mr. Hodges allowed that the temperature may need to be reset. But, in his opinion, cooler temperatures foster a better learning environment.
“It helps keeps you active and alert,” he said.