Clay County Graduation Rates Rise with Academies

Jacksonville's Action News recognizes the progress of AAIS Client, Clay County schools...

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By Jenna Bourne


The School District of Clay County’s graduation rate is above the national average for the first time, as the district goes into its second year of expanding academies to all its high school students.

It’s the first county in Florida to go “wall to wall” with those academies. That means students at every grade level in high school will have to pick a theme that guides their education, like aerospace or digital media.

The graduation rate there has increased 7 percent in three years.

Clay County first started incorporating academies for some eleventh- and twelfth-graders a few years ago.

“We just started last year with ninth-graders. And this year we’re incorporating the ninth and the 10th grade. So we’re stepping year by year until the entire school is incorporated,” said Oakleaf High School Academy Coach Diane Shier.

C.J. Cook just graduated from the Digital Media Academy at Fleming Island High School a few months ago. He’s already got a great gig.

“If I didn’t have the academies in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Cook. “I do game-day operations and I’m the emcee for the Jacksonville Sharks.”

Teachers spent summer training sessions collaborating to coordinate their lesson plans, using the academies’ themes to connect the dots between classes. Schools also partner with businesses for internships and job shadows.

“Education has changed,” said Middleburg High School Principal Rob Feltner. He said it’s not about making students pick a career at age 14.

“It may not end up being their career, but it’s a starting point that they can either say, I like this or, you know what? I want to try something different. Now we’ve given every student an opportunity to choose that,” said Feltner.

Feltner said he hopes more people move to Clay County so their students can attend these academies.

The county has been working closely with Nashville public schools, which have already implemented wall-to-wall academies. Attendance there has increased 6 percent in eight years. Schools there are seeing increases in GPA and graduation rates, as well.