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Destin High School To Open In August

Destin High School is no longer a community wish. It’s real. 

Around 300 people gathered at the site of the future Destin High School Wednesday evening for an official groundbreaking. With iffy weather, the groundbreaking was moved inside the former Grace Lutheran Church. 

A small pile of clay was placed on the altar of the church — the future assembly space for the school — for the official photo op with golden shovels. 

Destin Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell started the efforts to open the city’s first high school in 2016. There were efforts that date back to the 90s, but none that made it this far. 

“I think by now everyone knows this has been an effort years in the making,” she said. “When I brought this forward to City Council in 2016, so many people felt we didn’t have enough students or that it would never happen. We did our research. We did all the data and statistics and everything showed that not only is it viable — it’s feasible and necessary.” 

Ramswell said it was a “full-throttle community effort” with support from the city of Destin, Okaloosa County Commissioners and donations from the community. 

“I choke up because I know what this means to so many people,” she said. 

The tuition-free public charter school is slated to open in August after being delayed for a year due to the pandemic. At its opening, the expected capacity is about 250 to 300 students in grades 9th through 11th

“As freshmen move up each year, we’ll bring in 200 new freshmen,” said Principal Christine Cruickshank.

Renovations are ongoing to retrofit the church into a high school. Once Phase II is complete, the school will have a maximum capacity of 800 students — 200 per grade.

Cruickshank was one of the 200 applicants who applied for the principal position. She was hired at the beginning of the year and brings 35 years of experience to the job, including 10 years as assistant principal of the Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College, which is also a charter high school. 

“Everything we do is exciting and groundbreaking,” said Cruickshank. “I’ve been in education for 35 years and I’ve never been happier. I was ready for something challenging and different where I could be creative and I found it.” 

Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
Destin High School Principal Christine Cruickshank gives a tour to future students and their parents around the former Grace Lutheran Church which is being retrofitted into the charter school.

After the groundbreaking, Cruickshank gave tours around the campus. It’s all starting to feel real, she said. 

“It’s exciting to see students in the building,” she said. “They’re coming in next week to pick classes and that’s making it real — I think for the students as well.”

One way that Destin High School is setting itself apart is its curriculum that includes the core standards, but also focus areas such as business/entrepreneurship, biomedical sciences, and cybersecurity. And since Destin is home to the country’s largest fishing fleet, it only makes sense that one of the focus areas would be commercial fishing. Classes will even have the potential for students to earn credit toward their captain’s license. 

“I’m really excited as a legacy fisherman to see a high school that will have all the core curriculum but will challenge our students to be invested in programs and ideas that will serve our community as a whole,” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis. “Isn’t it great to live in Destin?”

And parents are excited, too. Currently, parents and students have to get up as early as 4 a.m. to make it to nearest high schools.

Destin resident Erin Drummond said she’s been waiting for this day for three years. Her son Sheamus will be in 9th grade next year and a future Destin High School student. 

“I’m excited about the closeness and the curriculum they’re putting in place,” she said. 

Drummond said the pandemic has taught her that not all students learn the same way. She said her kids were “miserable” with remote learning. Charter schools offer a more-creative approach. 

“This gives parents a choice,” she said. “I like that the classes are more focused on the kids and skills they can use for life. It’s not all geared toward tests.” 

Santa Rosa Beach resident Jackson Becker will be among the school’s first freshman class when it opens in August. He’s looking forward to the hour-long lunch breaks and smaller classrooms. 

“Coming from a larger school, I like how it’s a smaller school,” he said. “You know the people in your class and you can establish better connections and it’s easier to talk to the teacher if you have a problem.”

“When we were looking for high school options, this was a nice surprise,” added Jackson’s mom, Melissa Becker. “Students can build a sense of community here.” 

For more information on Destin High School and enrollment applications, visit destinhighschool.org.

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