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Gov. DeSantis designates 114 Purple Star Schools, including 35 in Okaloosa

Gov DeSantis FWB high school png
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Fort Walton Beach High School.

Acknowledging the massive military footprint in Northwest Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped at Fort Walton Beach High School Tuesday to announce the launch of two educational initiatives aimed at supporting military families in the state.

Okaloosa County was chosen because it has a higher percentage of military student enrollment than any other district in the state.

“Over 5,600 children of military service members are enrolled in Okaloosa schools,” DeSantis began. “So, I’m happy to announce today that 35 schools in Okaloosa County will now be designated as Purple Star schools.”

Across the state, a total of 114 Purple Star schools in 10 districts will get the designation in recognition of their efforts to “go above and beyond” to help children of military families succeed. In addition to Okaloosa, schools will be earmarked in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties, along with Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Duvall, Hillsborough, and Monroe.

The governor laid out a list of requirements that schools must meet to become a Purple Star campus.

  • Designating a faculty member as the military liaison to directly support families
  • Updating the school website with resources for military students and families
  • Offering a student-led transition program to assist military students in acclimating in to a school
  • Expanding staff professional development training opportunities on issues relating to military students
  • Reserving controlled, open enrollment seats for military-connected students to utilize to ensure
    school choice opportunities are available to them, regardless of the time of year their military transfer takes place.

During the news conference, DeSantis touted his Military Veterans Pathway Certification legislation, which allows veterans with Associate’s degrees to be hired as teachers while they work on their Bachelor’s degrees.

To build on that initiative, he announced the creation of the Purple Star teacher leadership program, with DOE will work with Purple Star schools in Okaloosa, Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties to set up their own teacher certification and professional development programs.

“Each school will recruit veterans to take part in their program as they work toward their teaching certificate, with each one given a mentor teacher,” said DeSantis, adding that veterans will also be recruited to help provide professional development specific to the needs of military families.

“Not only will this program employ veterans it will also allow districts and schools to conduct their own educator professional development and to certify their own teachers.”

DeSantis made the announcement with several students from military families, dressed in their own ROTC uniforms, behind him.

Pointing to Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, and the 7th Special Forces at Duke Field, Okaloosa County

Superintendent Marcus Chambers noted the importance of the district’s role in taking care of the community’s active duty dependents.

“When their families go away, whether its TDY (temporary duty) or whether they’re deployed, it’s their schools, and it’s the teachers, staff, and administrators who make a difference in their lives or being there for them to support them,” Chambers said, recalling his own experience being a student at a new school.

Speaking on behalf of his daughter Genevieve, an 11th grader at Fort Walton Beach, Army veteran Jesus acknowledged the efforts of the high school’s designated military guidance counselor to help her adjust to their relocation to the area from Minot, North Dakota.

“She came over and actually introduced my daughter to other friends,” he said, noting that some of those new friends were also from Minot.

“Because of the support you had at this school at Fort Walton Beach, she was able to make friends and now she’s thriving.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.