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The Dream Of Destin High School Is Becoming Reality

Jennie McKeon

In the early 80s, Jim Luttrell remembers talking to then-Okaloosa County Superintendent Pledger Sullivan about a high school in Destin.

“We were at a Rotary meeting, and I asked him ‘When are we going to have a high school?’ He asked me how old my daughter was and she was about 2 at the time,” Luttrell remembered. “He said she’ll probably be in the first graduating class.”

Luttrell’s daughter is now 37, and Destin still doesn’t have a high school.

That may soon change, thanks to a governing board working to make Destin High School (DHS) a tangible thing.

Tuesday night, the Destin High School governing board held a town hall meeting at Destin United Methodist Church — the location also is being considered for the school site. Nearly 200 people, including parents, students and Destin residents, were in attendance to vote on mascots and school colors, and ask questions.

Councilwoman and President of the Destin High School Governing Board Prebble Ramswell said the school should be open by August 2020 for the nearly 600 high-school age students in Destin. The options available now are Fort Walton Beach or Niceville High School.

“We have kids getting up at 4:30 and 5 a.m. to go to school,” Ramswell said. “It’s a 40-minute drive (to either school) on a good day. That’s not accounting for traffic.”

The board — made up of local leaders and parents — was put together in 2016. Since then, they’ve collectively put in 3,000 hours to prepare a charter, raise funds, and get the school off the ground. In February the charter was approved. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Destin residents vote on possible mascot and school colors for the future Destin High School.

The curriculum is being finished. But Ramswell said the school will have to provide specialized programs in areas such as marine and environmental science, hospitality and tourism, and cybersecurity.

“The curriculum will meet state standards, but also go above and beyond,” she added.

Of course, sports will be a part of the school. The board said they will be surveying students to see what sports they’re interested in at first. Students also have the option to participate in sports at Okaloosa County high schools.

Joe Zamora attended the town hall with his daughters, 11-year-old Justine and 13-year-old Mallory. The military family moved to Destin three years ago.

“The middle school is outstanding and they really like it here,” he said. “I plan to retire here. If I can keep my daughters in Destin schools that would be great.”

One important question parents had was about the enrollment lottery. In accordance with state statutes, the school will have a controlled open enrollment, which allows any parent to enroll their student if the school is not at capacity.  Okaloosa County students with a Destin address will get the first available seats. Walton County students will be included in the second lottery. 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
The Destin High School governing board put a call out to local artists to create mock ups of possible school mascots. The renderings were put to a vote at the Tuesday town hall.

Crystal Ayers said she was initially nervous about the new school, but said the town hall “eased her mind.”

“The guidance they have and the key players involved ... it sounds better,” she said. “Tonight answered all of my questions.”

While the Okaloosa County School District did not have the funds available to open a new high school, they have thrown support toward DHS. Okaloosa County School Board Member Diane Kelly said she’s excited for the school’s potential.

“I used to be principal at Destin Middle School, so I know the need for this,” she said after the meeting. “In the long run, this will be a benefit for the community and will help keep local talent here.” 

More town halls will be planned in the future. Stay up to date on the Destin High School at destinhighschool.org.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.