Education News May 2024



12 Okaloosa County Schools are “Schools of Excellence”

In March, 10 Okaloosa County District Schools, along with two charter schools, were designated by the Florida Department of Education as “Schools of Excellence” for the 2022-2023 academic year. The Schools of Excellence program was established by the Florida Legislature in 2017 under HB 7069 to recognize and reward Florida’s highest-performing schools. The program aims to promote continuous improvement and provide administrative flexibility to the state’s top schools so they can maintain the highest quality education for students.

Superintendent Marcus Chambers stated, “This prestigious recognition is awarded to schools that have consistently ranked in the 80th percentile or higher for at least two of the last three school years based on their school grade calculation. I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the students, teachers, staff, and administrators who have all contributed to this remarkable accomplishment!”

Okaloosa County Schools of Excellence: Bluewater Elementary; Destin Elementary; Edge Elementary; Eglin Elementary; Florosa Elementary; Plew Elementary; Northwest Florida Ballet Academie; Ruckel Middle School; Okaloosa STEMM Academy; Niceville High School; Liza Jackson Preparatory School—Charter School; Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College—Charter School.

First High School Health Academy on HCA Healthcare Campus Opens

HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital and the Okaloosa County School District (OCSD) have partnered to open the Health Academy of Northwest Florida on the hospital’s campus. The Health Academy of Northwest Florida is the first high school health academy to be housed on an HCA Healthcare hospital campus anywhere in the country! A joint partnership between HCA Florida Fort-Walton Destin Hospital and OCSD, the Health Academy of Northwest Florida provides high school students interested in healthcare careers the opportunity to earn industry certifications, providing them with the skills they need to directly enter the workforce or continue their post-graduate studies.

Students enrolled in the two-year practical nursing program learn the foundational principles of basic nursing and medical skills needed to provide care to patients.

Students at Niceville High School, Choctawhatchee High School and Fort Walton Beach High School are eligible to participate in the practical nursing program through the Career and Technical Education Department of OCSD. Students receive hands-on clinical training at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital during their senior year. Upon completion of the two-year program, students will be eligible to earn a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), a Certified Patient Care Technician (CPCT), and/or Electrocardiogram Technician (EKG) certification. Juniors who complete the program will have the opportunity for dual enrollment in the LPN program at Okaloosa Technical College during their senior year, and get a head start on earning their required course hours toward an LPN license.

“We are grateful for this pioneering collaboration, alongside the invaluable support and funding provided by Triumph Gulf Coast for this program,” said April Branscome, OCSD Career and Technical Education Program Director. “This marks a historic milestone as the first initiative of its kind nationwide, ushering in a transformative era in healthcare education.”

As part of the partnership, HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital provided a 6,375-square-foot-space to OCSD for the Health Academy of Northwest Florida, which includes two classrooms and two practical labs. Students who successfully complete the practical nursing program will have job placement opportunities throughout HCA Florida Healthcare. In addition, if employed by an HCA Florida Healthcare facility, tuition reimbursement will be available for students wishing to continue their education.

Annual Space Art Contest at Plew Elementary

Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez visited Plew Elementary to announce the Third Annual Spring 2024 Florida Space Art Contest for Florida’s kindergarten through fifth grade students. Mrs. Leavins and Mrs. Hill’s students welcomed Lieutenant Governor Nuñez, Superintendent Marcus Chambers and Space Florida’s President and CEO Rob Long to their classrooms. The students showed them some of the STEAM projects they were currently working on.

During the announcement at Plew’s media center, Lieutenant Governor Nuñez expressed her excitement about the initiative to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) education among students. She shared her full support and encouragement for the students’ creative artwork for this year’s theme, “Suit Up! Florida’s Space Suit of the Future.” Superintendent Marcus Chambers also added to the excitement by asking the students, “Who would like to go to space one day?” He further stated, “It is amazing to have a Lieutenant Governor with a vision about Space Florida, a vision to get you all to be thinking even more about space, because one of you could be an astronaut one day.” Chambers also reaffirmed the importance of STEAM education across Okaloosa Schools.

All entries must be received by 5 p.m., Friday, May 24, 2024. Entries must be mailed to Space Florida, ATTN: Florida Space Art Contest, 505 Odyssey Way, Suite 300, Exploration Park, Florida 32953. For more information about the contest, and official rules and guidelines, please visit

ECFU Partners with OCSD for Financial Literacy

Eglin Federal Credit Union and the Okaloosa County School District teamed up to bring financial literacy to high school students. Approximately 60 high school students from the 9th to 12th grades participated in lessons facilitated by Eglin Federal Credit Union’s VP Membership and Community Development, Neko Stubblefield. The personal financial literacy course covers a wide range of topics, from opening a checking or savings account to planning for retirement.

“By offering this course in local high schools, we aim to empower young people to develop healthy financial habits that will serve them throughout their lives,” said Stubblefield.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1054, the Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act, March 22, 2022. This act makes it mandatory for high school students to complete a financial literacy course to qualify for a standard high school diploma. The requirement applies to students who enrolled in high school in the 2023-2024 school year.


THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™ Named School of Excellence

THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™, encompassing SEASIDE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL™ and Seacoast Collegiate High School, proudly announces its designation as a 2022-2023 School of Excellence by the Florida Department of Education for the sixth consecutive year as a combination public charter school serving grades 5 through 12 in our area.

Out of 783 schools designated as Schools of Excellence for the 2022-2023 academic year, 658 retained their designation from the previous year, 37 renewed their designation and 88 were newly designated in 2022-2023.

Section 1003.631(1)(a), Florida Statutes (F.S.) mandates the designation of a school as a School of Excellence if its percentage of possible points earned in its school grade calculation ranks in the 80th percentile or higher for at least two of the last three school years. The program, established by the Florida Legislature in 2017, continues to recognize and celebrate schools demonstrating exceptional academic performance.

In addition to its designation as a School of Excellence, THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™ was also honored as an “A” school for the 2022-2023 school year, positioning it in the 98.5 percentile among all combination public schools in the state of Florida and securing its ranking as one of the top combination public charter schools in the state. THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™ has been an “A” school for more than 20 consecutive years.

“This achievement underscores our unwavering dedication to providing outstanding education to our students,” said Dr. Tom Miller, Executive Director of THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™, emphasizing the crucial partnership with the Walton County School District, which was recently ranked as the #2 school district in Florida. “Our strong partnership with the Walton County School District has been instrumental in our success, and we look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to further elevate educational standards in our community.”

“Our partnership with Northwest Florida State College has provided our students with invaluable opportunities to excel academically and prepare for their future endeavors. Being recognized as a School of Excellence affirms the effectiveness of our collaborative efforts in offering rigorous academic programs that empower our students to succeed,” said Drew Ward, Principal of Seacoast Collegiate High School, highlighting the significance of the partnership with Northwest Florida State College for Seacoast’s collegiate dual enrollment program.

For more information on THE SEASIDE SCHOOL™, visit

Freeport High School Students Explore Aquaponics

Freeport High School Students Explore AquaponicsFreeport High School boasts an innovative aquaponics program that integrates culturing fish (aquaculture) and various crops (agriculture) using an array of growing systems, including deep-water well, nutrient-film technique (NFT), Dutch buckets and clay media beds. Spearheaded by the foresight of Walton County School District’s Superintendent A. Russell Hughes and aided by a $500,000 appropriations funding initiative from the Florida legislature in 2022, this program offers students a hands-on learning experience in sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship, and equips students with invaluable career skills.

Students engage in the operation and maintenance of these aquaponic systems, learning about the symbiotic relationship between fish, plants, and bacteria as they cultivate crops in water-efficient environments. The nutrient-rich water, which is created by fish, circulates through naturally occurring good bacteria systems that convert the fish waste to high nutrient water that then passes through various growing systems delivering essential nutrients to plants. The plants continue to filter the water so that it can then be returned to the fish. As students manage these systems, they learn to troubleshoot and overcome challenges that may arise in these aquaponic systems, developing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities essential for any profession.

Moreover, Freeport High School’s aquaponics program hopes to extend its reach beyond the classroom by offering students the opportunity to participate in restoration efforts within our local estuary, Choctawhatchee Bay. By partnering with esteemed organizations such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Laboratory, and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, students can actively contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the Bay’s ecosystem.

Through these unique partnerships, students gain firsthand experience in environmental conservation and scientific research, fostering a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness between human activities and the natural world. As they engage in restoration projects, students not only apply their knowledge in practical settings, but also develop a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards their local environment, leaving a lasting impact on their community and beyond.

Moreover, the collaborative nature of the program fosters teamwork and communication skills as students work together to design, implement and maintain their aquaponic setups. The program also cultivates leadership skills as students take on various roles and responsibilities within their teams. Whether leading project initiatives or mentoring peers, students learn to inspire and guide others, honing their leadership skills and achieving shared goals. These career-focused skills are integrated into the aquaponics program at Freeport High School not only to prepare students for success in fields related to agriculture, environmental science and conservation, but also to instill in them the confidence and competence to excel in any professional endeavor they pursue.