As we embark on the start of a new semester, I would like to share with our families and community members our highlights on District projects, programs, and successes during the first semester of the school year. As Superintendent, it fills my heart to see the successes of our students excelling in academics, the arts, and athletics. I also see our teachers and administrative staff giving their all to build a positive school culture and prepare our students for college, the military, and the workforce. So many great things are happening, so let’s take a look!
OKALOOSA COUNTY RECEIVES A-RATING FROM THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
As you may know, the Okaloosa County School District (OCSD) earned an A-rating for the 2023 school year by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE)! So much hard work goes into this, and Okaloosa is one of three districts in Florida to earn an A each year the state has assigned grades since 2014. I could not be more proud of our students, teachers, staff, and administrators for this recognition! In December, FLDOE released the 2023 Baseline School Grades, and the results are highly encouraging in the first year of a more rigorous statewide assessment. The District’s percentage of points earned increased from 63% last year to 68% this year.
STUDENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE ARTS AND ATHLETICS
Arts and Athletics are the fabric of school districts. Students learn perseverance, teamwork, dedication, grit, success, hard work, and even failure. These characteristics culminate a student's journey by giving them the confidence to accomplish their dreams, helping them academically, and developing their mental mindset. Our students have achieved district and state championships on the football field, the volleyball court, cross country, swimming, and golf. We have talented student artists who participated in a statewide visual arts competition called "Art in the Capital," and several students were recognized for their impressive work.
Our middle and high school choral programs showcase the exceptional vocal talent of our students who have received straight superiors and participated in Okaloosa's All-County Honor Choir. We have fantastic band programs where our students are earning straight superior ratings at District Music Performance Assessments (MPA) and have opportunities, like the 2024 Rose Bowl Parade, to represent Okaloosa County and show our nation and the world how awesome our music programs are. I am proud of these programs and appreciate the time and energy our teachers and students put into their craft - they make us all very proud!
Due to the Half-Cent Sales Tax Program that Okaloosa County Voters approved in 2020 for our schools, we are making many critical updates to our buildings throughout the entire District. These projects are game changers for our District, and it's exciting to showcase their completion. Although not all these completed projects are visible, such as new roofs and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) replacements, they are all critically important to our schools. Last Fall, we began highlighting the success of the Half-Cent Sales Tax projects by hosting ribbon cuttings at the following schools:
• Longwood Elementary was built forty years ago as an open concept school with pod-style classrooms. Now, the school has self-contained classrooms, each outfitted with innovative technology, new furniture, flooring, and roofing.
• Silver Sands School has a new four-classroom addition (which removed three portables), a parking lot, repaved track, and wheelchair accessible playground equipment.
• Crestview High School has a new eight-classroom addition with the latest technology and classroom furniture. Other updates include a cafeteria expansion, roofing projects, new restrooms, and a multipurpose building nearing completion.
• Elliott Point Elementary has an eight-classroom addition, expanded bus ramp, and parking. The classroom addition eliminated five portables on campus which was used for classrooms.
Throughout Florida, portable classrooms are not uncommon on school campuses. In Okaloosa County, we've been working on plans to reduce the number of portables since the Half-Cent Sales Tax was approved in November 2020. Classroom addition projects, like the one at Elliott Point, do just that. In addition, when we build a much needed Cafetorium (enlarged cafeteria along with other additional space) such as what is under construction at Bob Sikes Elementary School, Edwins Elementary, Plew Elementary, Shalimar Elementary, Wright Elementary, and Ruckel Middle School, we will be able to convert the old cafeterias into new classrooms, thus eliminating portables on campus. For information on the Sales Tax program, visit the District's Half-Cent Sales Tax Capital Program website.
NEW SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION
We have also put the wheels in motion for the first new school construction since 2007. The District has plans to build and open a new K-8 school in Crestview to serve 1200 children in the Fall of 2026. A thirty-two classroom addition is in the plan and design phase to open in 2026 and serve grades 3 through 5 at Destin Elementary School. Additionally, the District is considering expansion possibilities and/or new school construction in the Niceville area as well. More to come on our long-range plans to address aging school buildings, infrastructure, and future enrollment throughout the county, so stay tuned.
In years past, our District was labeled as having the oldest bus fleet in the state. Finally, Okaloosa County is refreshing our school bus fleet at the rate of fifteen buses per year. In 2021, the District started our Bus Replacement Program with the arrival of forty new school buses. We now have seventy-six new buses and fifteen more on the way in 2024, totaling ninety-one new buses with today’s latest safety features in three years’ time.
CAREER TECHNICAL EDUCATION
The OCSD Career and Technical Education (CTE) program offers nineteen courses at the middle and high school level with rigorous career pathways for all facets of the workforce: Building Trades & Construction Design Technology, Digital Design, Digital Video Technology, Engineering Pathways, Applied Robotics, Biomedical Sciences, Emergency Medical Responder, Practical Nursing, Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Applied Cybersecurity, Data Science and Machine Learning, Web Application Development and Programming, Criminal Justice Operations, Dispatcher: Police, Fire, Ambulance, Welding Technology Fundamentals, Advanced Manufacturing Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair.
CTE education prepares students to explore, compete, and succeed as lifelong learners in careers available in our area and the entire state of Florida. From 2007 through 2022, the District has received over ten million dollars for certification funding, and during this timeframe, Okaloosa students have earned 20,426 certifications. We will continue to offer programs that meet the demands of our local workforce. The CTE staff works extremely hard to ensure the continued success of these programs by securing grants. Recently, CTE received a grant for $307, 200 for our Building Trades program. We are grateful to Senator Jay Trumbull and Representative Patt Maney for their support on the legislative funding. Funding is necessary to ensure the longevity of CTE programs to provide hands-on, work-based learning that is relevant to student interests and responsive to the needs of employers and the economy. In addition, Crestview High School’s automotive program received a $8,500 grant from Florida Power Light, which will provide an Electrathon America electric vehicle build kit, a $2,500 stipend for the instructor, supplemental resources, and curriculum materials. The grant will help students build and maintain an electric vehicle to compete against 19 other Florida high schools.
These opportunities are a few ways to prepare students for a successful future. To learn more about OCSD’s CTE program, visit https://www.mycteworks.com.
OKALOOSA TECHNICAL COLLEGE - TRIUMPH GRANT
We are very excited about the $7.85 million in funding through a grant by Triumph Gulf Coast to purchase and renovate seven acres in the Okaloosa Industrial Air Park near Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview. The funding will allow the District to establish a north campus of Okaloosa Technical College (OTC) to serve residents and allow access to our programs, such as automotive, manufacturing, cyber security, electronics, and plumbing, in rapidly growing northern Okaloosa County. Currently, Okaloosa Technical College offers dual enrollment programs for high school students. Upon project completion, the north campus will provide dual enrollment opportunities, and our students will have access to new technical college programs. I am excited about this opportunity between our District, OTC, and local economic development leaders. The location of this campus is near the epicenter of future economic growth for the Shoal River Ranch megasite and proximity to Bob Sikes Airport and the Okaloosa Industrial Air Park. This area is expected to attract manufacturing companies, and we can work collaboratively to offer pathways that will further our students’ success in the north end and continue to contribute positively to Okaloosa’s economy.
Throughout the school year, our schools spring into action to ensure the needs of our families are met. It is particularly hard during the holidays when we know some families may be struggling. Last semester, the District staff successfully kicked off two initiatives to provide Thanksgiving meals to families and launch our very first Angel Tree. It was heartwarming to see members of our community, such as Jacob’s Titan, Florida Power and Light, and Publix, who partnered with us to provide Thanksgiving meals to 119 families. In addition, our District staff and local families sponsored 73 students for our Angel Tree. We look forward to continuing these programs and supporting even more of our families.
I hope you are as proud and excited as I am to know that our students are excelling academically and thriving in the arts and athletics. Our schools are steadily receiving much-needed critical improvements, including classroom additions, new roofing and flooring, multi-purpose buildings, cafetoriums, new furniture and technology, parking, and so much more. Every day, I am reminded that we live in a community that supports our students, teachers, and schools, and for that, I am forever thankful. Our mission is to place students on a pathway to success by providing a world-class education led by what I believe are amongst the most dedicated and devoted educators in Florida. Our teachers must also receive the tools they need to educate our students successfully. I encourage our families to check your student’s real-time grades through FOCUS. If you have questions about your child’s academic standing, please get in touch with your child’s teacher or school counselor.
Together, we will finish this school year strong!