Talks about a possible high school in Destin have been going on for years.
Now, the city is closer than ever to establishing a high school for the first time.
In 2016, Destin City Council voted to establish a Destin High School committee. For the past two years, the group of local leaders and parents have been working with that goal in mind. At Monday’s city council meeting, the committee — which includes Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell — announced they could open a school by August 2020.
“The time is really now,” said one of the committee members, Heidi LoCicero. “We’re the buzz in the carpool lanes...we need that buzz. We need donations and more committee members.”
Initially, the committee wanted to go through Okaloosa County School District. But the school district lacked funding, Ramswell said. It’s also been the subject of controversy since last year when Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and school officials were accused of covering up a child abuse investigation.
“We knew it (the school) wasn’t going to happen,” Ramswell said.
This summer, the committee met with the School Financial Services agency, which recommended opening a charter school. In August, they selected Collaborative Educational Network (CEN) as a consultant. CEN will prepare and submit a charter application in February 2019. Upon approval, the new school could be open as soon as August 2020.
There are three undisclosed, possible locations for the school all within city limits.
Alongside the standard curriculum, the proposed high school will offer specialized programs in marine and environmental science, cyber security, hospitality and tourism and construction.
“One of our goals is not just to have a high school — we want to be different,” Ramswell said at the meeting. “We have to offer different courses for students who might want to pursue different paths.”
In the future, Ramswell said she could see the charter school expanding to a fully public school.
“We knew we had to take matters into our own hands and we didn’t want to open a private school,” she said. “We wanted this to be open to every student.”
More than 600 high school students live in Destin according to past meeting minutes. A majority of high school students in Destin attend Fort Walton Beach High School, which many parents complain is a logistical headache.
“My driveway is one of the bus stops for students going to Fort Walton Beach High School,” said Ramswell. “They have to catch the bus at 6:05 a.m. just to get to school. In the afternoon, on the way home, if there’s a bad wreck on Okaloosa Island it takes them hours to get home.”
Until the future Destin High School is established, the committee is raising funds to meet goals. Phase 1 goal is $85,000 to cover consulting and attorney fees as well as establishing the nonprofit, Destin High School, Inc. The Phase 2 goal is $500,000, which will cover facility development, plans, faculty search and operational expenses. Updates on the project will are available on Facebook.
Ramswell said she’s invested in the project not just because she’s the mother of a seventh-grader who will be attending high school soon, but because it’s good for the people who call Destin home.
“It’s a community venture,” she said. “This will really bring the community together.”