The Conversation: Sel Buyuksarac

Chief of Public Affairs and Government Relations, River City Science Academy

Conversation with Janet M. HerrickPhotograph by laird

You are the cofounder of the award-winning, nationally ranked River City Science Academy (RCSA) charter school here in Jacksonville. What inspired you to start this school and how is it different for serving children’s needs in education these days?

Both of my parents were educators in Turkey, and I spent all my time at school. Education was of paramount importance to my family. My college mentors encouraged me to volunteer before beginning my career in civil engineering. I went to the Philippines where I helped build and start a school. I saw how much of a difference this school made to the local community and how valuable an education was for the children. I moved from volunteering to teaching for this school because of the impact it had on me. When I moved to Jacksonville, I knew that I wanted to give back to my new community through education. This inspired me to help start RCSA and provide a certain type of education for kids who needed it. We have a focus on STEM curriculum, robust after school programs, and an engaging academic structure.

The pandemic put unimaginable pressure on the education system to pivot in a short amount of time. How did RCSA handle the change?

Thankfully, we utilized many online tools and resources before the pandemic that our students were already familiar with, which helped greatly with the transition. Because we could no longer offer after-school clubs and other programs, we took that time to build new programs and better existing ones. We understood that mental health was so important for our students. We partnered with Baptist Health to bring a program called Calm Classroom to our school, which provided teachers and students meditation and calming techniques. We also created a team to better our character education program, which ultimately led us to become the first State School of Character in Jacksonville. 

You began with one school and now have five. Are there plans for RCSA to continue to grow?

We actually have approval for a sixth school from the school board that will be coming soon. We have seen that there is a need from families in Jacksonville for the education that we provide. As long we continue to see that need, we hope to be able to grow to meet it by keeping the same core values and culture that we see in our current schools. Our goal is not growth; it is quality. Instead of seeing others as a competition, we are all a team. Our biggest competitor is ourselves because we always want to be better than we were before. Our dedicated teachers and staff and supportive community leaders and partners helps us meet our goals.

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Author: Arbus

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