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Destin High School Welcomes 300 Students For Its First (Ever) Day Of School

Tuesday was back to school for students in Okaloosa County — as well as Santa Rosa and Walton Counties. But at Destin High School it was the first day of school, ever.

The long-awaited charter school had to delay its 2020 opening due to the pandemic. On Tuesday, the dream became reality as 300 students gathered for their first day at the brand-new school.

“I definitely have first day of school jitters this morning,” said Destin High School principal Christine Cruickshank. “I’m excited to have the students here and excited to get things going and running and see them come through and be in our first assembly together and welcome them to the first day of Destin High School. It’s been a long time coming.”

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Destin High School Principal Christine Cruickshank

Talks of building a high school in Destin had been ongoing for years. Until this school year, high school students would have to travel to Niceville or Fort Walton Beach, each about 40 minutes away, to get to school.

In 2016, Destin City Council voted to establish the Destin High School governing board, which is led by councilwoman Dr. Prebble Ramswell. The board turned those talks into action.

Jodi Palmer is one of the parent volunteers. Wearing her blue Destin High School t-shirt, she greeted students as they entered through the doors to the alter of the former Grace Lutheran Church — now the home of Destin High School.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my own girls walk through in a minute,” said Palmer.

As the parent of a 9th and 11th grader, Palmer had a vested interest to see the school open. And it’s the hard work from the community that makes the school special, she said.

“I think the difference is that the school exists because of the will of the community to make it happen,” she said. “This happened because a lot of people put a lot of work into opening this school.”

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
Parent volunteer Jodi Palmer welcomes students on the first day of school at Destin High School.

English teacher, Julie Worth is brand-new to Destin. After 28 years of teaching, this is the first time she’s been a part of a school grand opening.

“I think this school was established to be a part of this community and I think that’s really important because the high school is really the hub of a community,” she said. “I’m very excited to be a part of that.”

Freshman Eleanor Dawson said she was a little nervous about her first day of school because she has to change her schedule. She said she likes the layout of the school and the fact that there are “fewer children.” She’s also looking forward to learning Chinese.

And overall, she likes the idea of being a part of the inaugural class.

“It feels really cool,” she said. “I want to become a singer or an actor so it’ll be really cool to, I guess you could say, put that legacy on to the school. Like ‘oh so-and-so went here.’ I just think it’d be really cool being (part of) the first year.”

For Kylianne Winters, the first day of school is “kind of scary.” Not for any particular reason.

“Just high school in general,” she admitted after her mom snapped a photo of her in front of the school.

The charter high school offers all of the state-required curriculum with a Destin twist. Students can earn certifications in a handful of areas including business and entrepreneurship, biomedical sciences and even commercial fishing, which is fitting for the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

As for COVID, Principal Cruickshank said the school is following state guidelines. In accordance with Governor DeSantis’ executive order, masks are optional at the school. A few students and faculty members were wearing masks Tuesday, and a parent volunteer was taking temperatures outside the school.

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
A parent volunteer takes temperatures outside Destin High School.

“As the year progresses, and I’m sure the state sees what’s going on, we’ll update whatever we need to do,” said Cruickshank. “We’ll be keeping classrooms clean — sanitizer in the classrooms — and we’ll go with new guidelines as they roll out depending on how the school year goes.”

School officially started with a short assembly with Cruickshank welcoming students to “The Shark Tank.” She tossed out a few plush baby sharks to mark the occasion.

“You now have a firm place in the history of our community and school as the first students at Destin High School,” she said. “So that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”

The assembly continued with students and faculty reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and music teacher Courtney Murie Noe singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by a moment of silence.

That’s how all mornings will start, said Cruickshank.

With the sound of the bell, students made their way through the freshly-painted hallways to their classes as faculty helped direct some lost students. Principal Cruickshank said she wants the school to be a “special place” for students.

“High school should be some of the best four years of a student’s life,” she said. “I hope we can get over humps, make it all positive, and just be a special place for them to want to be here to learn and grow.”

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