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Schools are administering the last Florida Standardized Assessments, EVER, honoring their students' academic achievements with award ceremonies, having fun at field days, and preparing for graduation. Seniors are deciding their plans after high school, and we love to celebrate their accomplishments at awards ceremonies across the District. We are officially in the last nine weeks grading period of the 2021-2022 school year, and we are in the process of planning for the 2022-2023 school year.

To help keep you in the know, I'm sharing a few highlights from the most recent Okaloosa County School District School Board Meeting. We would love for you to spread our latest news. Please feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends, family, coworkers, businesses, and organizations and encourage them to subscribe!

A full agenda is available on our website www.okaloosaschools.com. You can watch the meeting and the meeting workshop in their entirety by visiting the School Board of Okaloosa County's YouTube page.

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Administrative Appointments

Ms. Jerral Horton is the new Assistant Principal of CTE. She was formerly Assistant Principal of Niceville High School.
Mr. Victor Mann is the new Assistant Principal of Fort Walton Beach High. He was formerly Assistant Principal of Baker School.
Mr. Jon Williams is the new Principal of Okaloosa Technical College. He was formerly Assistant Principal of OTC.

Recognitions

Cedric Fairrow, Fort Walton Beach High School (FWBHS), was recognized at the March 28th School Board meeting for winning the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) 2022 State Wrestling Championship in the 2A 220 lb. division. With an undefeated 50-0 season, Cedric's 4-year career record stands at 152-20 (84 of the wins were by pins). Coach Tobi Marez is the Boy's Weightlifting coach for FWBHS.

Cedric works hard and leads by example in all aspects of his life.  He has managed to maintain a 3.8 GPA while also volunteering in his community and bringing home a state championship to Okaloosa County and Fort Walton Beach High School.

Congratulations to the Niceville High School Varsity Cheerleaders on their 2022 FHSAA State Championship in the Class 1A Large All-Girl Varsity Division.
The Niceville  High School Junior Varsity Cheerleaders were recognized at the March 28th School Board meeting for winning the 2022 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National Championships in the Game Day Division.
The Ruckel Middle School Cheerleaders were recognized at the April 11th School Board meeting for winning the 2022 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National Championships in the Junior High Game Day Division.

Purple Up!

Purple Up For Military Kids! Our community has a robust military connection, and the Okaloosa County School District values and respects the military families and students who are part of the OCSD family. April is recognized as the Month of the Military Child, showing respect for military children's sacrifices every day, including separations, deployments, frequent moves, and having their parents potentially in harm's way.

Ms. Elaine Lajuenesse, Team Eglin's School Liaison, updated the Board on the amazing things our schools are doing to show their support of our military family members. These activities include honor boards, art and essay contests, spirit week, and discussing what patriotism means. The Okaloosa County School District has 5,743 military-connected students, and she reminded us that the number continues to rise!

"We really lean forward to build this wonderful partnership with Mr. Chambers and his Senior Leaders. We thank you for all you do to support us and all the principals, teachers, and counselors. We definitely couldn't do this alone. Thank you so much!"

-Elaine Lajeunesse

Our military students' resiliency and strength inspire us! Wear purple to show your support!

Citizens' Oversight Committee

Mr. Jason Belcher, Chairman of the Citizens Oversight Committee, provided their quarterly progress report. With a new year comes a new committee. Many of last year's members remain on the Board, and we welcome Leslie Sheekley- Partner, Hand Arendall Harrison Sale Law Firm, to the committee. Over the last year, the committee has overseen the progress of projects that have come about thanks to the Half-Cent Sales Tax. Here is a summary of his presentation.

Year 1 Priorities- Safety and Roofing Projects
The committee and the Board are pleased with the progress of our single point of entry, fencing, and roofing projects. Because we have funds from the Half-Cent Sales Tax, we were able to expedite these crucial projects and are three years ahead of our original schedule. While many of them are complete, all safety and roofing projects will be finalized by the beginning of next school year.

Certificate Of Participation (COP) process: Complete
Nineteen substantial construction projects for fifteen different campuses are either underway or will be soon. These projects include much-needed multipurpose buildings at our high schools, cafetoriums, and classroom additions. The Multipurpose Facility Contracts are signed and awarded, allowing us to break ground soon. We are excited to have these buildings, which will provide extra space and opportunities for our athletes in need of practice facilities and our classes during inclement weather, among other things.

"These facilities are vital to the health and prosperity of our schools."
-Jason Belcher

Sales Tax Receipts
Our projected budget for all of 2021 was $22 Million. We are happy to report that we collected more than predicted. Our updated budget is $30 Million allowing the school board to begin projects sooner than anticipated. 

OCSD Half-Cent Sales Tax Capital Program Dashboard
The Program Dashboard makes it easy for citizens to track the progress of the Half-Cent Sales Tax projects. This dashboard includes a breakdown by the school, including finances, schedules, and even by school type, offering complete transparency. It is a great resource, and we encourage you to check it out! 

"The Committee itself has been very pleased with all that we have seen so far. Our job is to be an advocate for the School Board, to be a chance for the citizens to have oversight, and we, representing the citizenry, watching what the Board and the District are doing, have been very pleased so far!"
-Jason Belcher

Capital Program Dashboard

Youth Leadership Council

This time last year, Superintendent Chambers and Commissioner Ponder had similar visions for what they wanted to do to empower some of Okaloosa County's student leaders, so they came together to create the Okaloosa Youth Leadership Council. This group of juniors and seniors from each high school in the Okaloosa County School District has discussed issues that are impactful to them. Two of those students addressed the School Board with these initiatives, which impact the school district and the county.
 
"These intelligent ladies and gentlemen not only came up with ideas about what they thought was important, but they also put time and energy into researching the different topics. It makes me proud that these students are in our School District!"
-Superintendent Chambers
Layla Seaton, a senior honors student at Fort Walton Beach High School, served as the Vice-Chair of the Okaloosa County Youth Leadership Council and presented the need for financial literacy courses in our high schools. The committee proposes that this course be available to students in honors and regular format beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.
 
"Graduating seniors will have a strong foundation to make informed financial decisions allowing them to take care of their families, minimize debt, and contribute to a thriving economy."
-Layla Seaton
 
Florida Legislature recently passed a law that requires Financial Literacy to be offered as a graduation requirement beginning with seniors graduating in 2023-2024. Thanks to these proactive students, the Okaloosa County School District will lead the way by offering the course next year, a year ahead of the State's requirement. 
 
"One of the things we are extremely proud of is the fact that though this has become state law, the Youth Leadership Council had the foresight during the first semester of the school year to already be thinking about this. That's vision, and that's thoughtfulness from our students." 
-Superintendent Chambers
Watch Layla's Proposal
Stella Hurley, a senior honor student at Baker School, served as the Chair of the Okaloosa County Youth Leadership Council and presented the need for HOPE Squads in every school in the Okaloosa County School District.

Miss Hurley shared that suicide has become a prevalent issue over the past few decades, and the pandemic compounded it. It has become one of the leading causes of death in teens. A 2019 study showed that 19% of high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide, 16% made a suicide plan, 9% attempted suicide, and 3% made a suicide attempt that had to be treated by a doctor. 
 
"While there are several important areas of school funding such as buildings, materials, and transportation, nothing is more important than the students' lives. On behalf of this program, I urge you to prioritize HOPE Squad funding by implementing this program in all our schools, providing mental health training for students and staff, and promoting the program across the district."
-Stella Hurley
 
HOPE Squads are currently established in most secondary schools in the Okaloosa County School District and will be in all secondary schools by the end of the school year. HOPE Squad will be in all elementary schools by the end of next school year, in large part because of generous donations and grants from Eglin Federal Credit Union, Impact 100 Gulf Coast, and other community supporters.
Watch Stella's Proposal
Superintendent Chambers asked Layla and Stella to comment on their experience serving on the Youth Leadership Council.

Stella explained that she now understands how the school district works and can explain to classmates why certain things happen the way they do, whether it be laws, standards, etc. "I can explain that you all aren't separate but are doing things for us all the time to improve our school and that we do have a voice as well. We can come to you with things that are on our hearts and our minds and that you are here to listen and respectfully do what you have to do the way that you think it's best to respond to that."

Layla mentioned that she was honored to have been selected by her principal, Mr. Spolski, to serve on this council. "Being on the council gave us the opportunity to voice our concerns and let what we wanted to change be heard and not shut down. It was an open space that allowed us to share our ideas."

Commissioner Ponder echoed Superintendent Chambers's gratitude for this partnership and looks forward to expanding it next year. "One of the joys I had is that all these schools could be rivals on Friday night to some degree, but when we met together, it was about building unity, going across lines, and learning something new about each other. I wanted that true relationship to last beyond this time together as the Youth Leadership Council."

Summer Intensive Studies

In recent years Summer School has only been available to students who are being retained or held back. It is a pivotal time to help students remediate and receive added support and/or recover courses to be on track for graduation. This year, Summer School will be offered to even more students providing them an opportunity to get their skills back on grade level before August so they don't fall behind. 
"It is a great opportunity to avoid the 'Summer Slide,' and we hope parents take advantage."
-Linda Evanchyk, School Board Member

Superintendent Chambers Updates the Board

Anne T. Mitchell

Academic Senior Honors Assembly

The School Board of Okaloosa County hosted the 48th Annual Anne T. Mitchell Academic Senior Honors Assembly on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at the Northwest Florida State College Raider Arena. Five hundred eighty-three students were recognized for earning a Weighted Grade Point Average high enough to designate them Summa Cum Laude (4.25+), Magna Cum Laude (4.00-4.2499), or Cum Laude (3.75-3.9999) at their respective school.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Peggy Gorday Bruner Award, which is Okaloosa County’s highest award for educational achievement and excellence. Mrs. Bruner was a teacher in the Okaloosa County School District for 25 years and was married to former Superintendent Max Bruner. The 2022 nominees for the honor were Stella Hurley, Baker School; Amirah Ricks, Choctawhatchee High School; Aubrey Tew, Crestview High School; Olin Wolfgram, Fort Walton Beach High School; Dylan Adams, Laurel Hill School; and Page Dolloff, Niceville High School. Olin Wolfgram was named the most outstanding academic scholar among all of the county’s graduating classes!

Each honors student was highlighted in a video tribute to the Senior Class of 2022: The Stars of Tomorrow, which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/xtb1S_MTcds.

For your planning purposes, Graduation dates and times have been scheduled and can be found here: https://www.okaloosaschools.com/articles/2022/graduation-dates-2022 . Each ceremony will be streamed live on YouTube, and schools will distribute links closer to graduation!

Accreditation

Cognia is the organization that completes the accreditation process on school districts all over the country and assesses with a point system every five years. The average score of all school districts across the nation is 278- 283 out of 400 points. Okaloosa County School District was awarded 382 points due to what our schools are doing each and every day. The teamwork is evident.

There are three categories we were judged on:

  • Leadership Capacity
    • Okaloosa received the highest rating- Impacting- in 10 out of 11 standards
  • Learning Capacity
    • Okaloosa received the highest rating- Impacting- in 11 out of 12 standards.
  • Resource Capacity
    • Okaloosa received the highest rating- Impacting- in ALL of the standards
"Something like that doesn't happen by accident. It happens because we have excellent people who have a heart for kids and try to do the right thing each and every day."
-Superintendent Chambers

April

April is World Autism Month, and April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day.  Since April 2nd fell on a Saturday, the Okaloosa County School District showed its support by wearing blue on Friday, April 8th. We encourage you to wear blue this month and spread kindness as we do everything we can to promote acceptance, understanding, and inclusion with daily acts of kindness.
National Child Abuse Awareness Month is observed during the month of April to recognize the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. The Okaloosa County School District visited the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center to offer our support to Sheriff Eric Aden as he read and affirmed a proclamation to continue the fight against and eradicate child abuse.
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