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Okaloosa School District bids farewell to retiring Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton after 35 years

The Okaloosa County School Board recognized Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton for his 35 years of distinguished service, dedication, achievements, and leadership at a meeting Monday night.  The board room was filled with […]

Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton

The Okaloosa County School Board recognized Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton for his 35 years of distinguished service, dedication, achievements, and leadership at a meeting Monday night. 

  • The event marked the occasion of Horton’s retirement from Okaloosa County Schools, celebrating a career that has left an indelible mark on the district and its students.

The board room was filled with colleagues, family members, and friends who gathered to honor Horton’s contributions to public education in Okaloosa County. The atmosphere was charged with emotion as board members and Superintendent Marcus Chambers took turns praising Horton’s invaluable impact on the district, highlighting his unwavering commitment to students and his exemplary work ethic.

Board Member Linda Evanchyk opened the recognition with a creative and heartwarming tribute, drawing inspiration from Dr. Seuss’s beloved character in “Horton Hears a Who.” Evanchyk presented her own version of the story, affectionately titled “Horton’s Heard it All,” acknowledging the many roles and responsibilities Horton has shouldered throughout his career, particularly in his most recent position as Deputy Superintendent.

  • “You and I have worked together in a lot of capacities,” Evanchyk said, addressing Horton directly. “There are a lot of similarities between Horton [from Dr. Seuss] and you. First of all, Horton’s very kind as you are. He’s a friend to everyone. He cares for other people. All of these sayings sound like you. He’s very conscientious and hardworking and everything.”

The creative tribute continued as each board member took turns reciting verses from Evanchyk’s composition, touching on various aspects of Horton’s multifaceted career. They highlighted his crucial role in making weather-related school decisions, ensuring student safety during inclement conditions.

  • The verses also acknowledged Horton’s dedication to mentoring through the Take Stock in Children program, showcasing his commitment to individual student success.

Board members praised Horton‘s management of the district’s Foundation and his involvement in organizing community events such as career fairs, “Burgers and Bingo” fundraising events and pickleball tournaments.

The rhyme touched on Horton’s handling of complex administrative tasks, including controlled enrollment and full-time equivalent (FTE) reporting. Each verse painted a picture of a dedicated educator and administrator who consistently went above and beyond his assigned duties.

Superintendent Marcus Chambers delivered an emotional tribute that resonated deeply with everyone present. Chambers reflected on his long-standing relationship with Horton, which began in the early 2000s.

  • “This is a hard one,” Chambers began, his voice thick with emotion. “I think if we had a Hall of Fame for educators in this school district, Mr. Horton would be just that.” Chambers went on to describe the profound impact Horton had on his own career and personal growth.
Steve Horton when he was appointed as Deputy Superintedent

“I learned about work ethic. I learned about integrity. I learned about somebody who cares and gives his all for others and who first and foremost has a heart for students,” Chambers said. “This is someone who I would call a friend. This is someone who I call a mentor. This is someone who, for me, was always there for me every single day.”

Chambers praised Horton’s exceptional dedication, noting that he often took on the responsibilities of two and a half roles without complaint or hesitation. “I think in a day and age where it’s easy sometimes to be negative and to see the faults, this is a person who will redirect you and help you to see the beauty of all that is education,” Chambers added, highlighting Horton’s ability to maintain a positive outlook and inspire others.

  • The superintendent shared a personal anecdote about visiting Horton’s empty office after his departure, underscoring the profound impact Horton had on the district and the void his retirement would leave. “This is somebody who you absolutely care about,” Chambers concluded.

Board Member Marti Gardner emphasized Horton’s irreplaceable nature, a sentiment echoed by many throughout the evening. “I tell people all the time that we can all be replaced, but Mr. Horton, you cannot be replaced,” Gardner stated emphatically. 

Board Member Diane Kelley shared her perspective of watching Horton’s career evolve from his early days at the district office. Kelley recalled when Horton, along with Superintendent Chambers and Jeff Scroggins, first arrived at the district office.

  • “When you three got down there, I thought, what in the world has she done bringing these young whippersnappers?” Kelley said with a smile. “I quickly saw why she [Terry Bevino] selected you and brought you out there. It has really been delightful for me to watch all of you grow and blossom and mature in your profession.”

Board Member Lamar White spoke to Horton’s excellence across various roles, from teacher to administrator to graduate student. White’s unique perspective as both a colleague and former instructor added depth to the tribute.

“I knew you as a teacher. You were an outstanding teacher. Then I knew you as an administrator. Then I knew you as you came to the school district office. I got the pleasure of working with you in that capacity,” White said. He added, “I knew you as a student. Some of you know that at one time, I taught graduate school. And I’ll say this: You were one of the best students that I ever taught. And it doesn’t surprise me that you’ve had such a successful career and that you’re so highly valued.”

In response to these heartfelt tributes, Horton delivered a moving speech that captured the essence of his career and the values that guided him throughout his 35 years in education. He began with a piece of advice from his father that had served him well: “Always tell the truth. That way, you never have to remember what you said.”

  • Horton reflected on his unexpected journey in education, which began in 1989 at Meigs Junior High under the leadership of Bobby Smith. “I have no idea what my career path would be, or if I’d stay in education longer than a few years, and here we are, 35 years later,” Horton mused.

He took a moment to emphasize the importance of public education, stating, “Public education is the greatest invention of mankind and the world is what it is because of free public education.” Horton commended the district’s unwavering commitment to this principle, acknowledging the board’s role in prioritizing quality education for all students.

Acknowledging the collaborative nature of his success, Horton praised his colleagues: “When you surround yourself with quality people, it makes you look better than you really are.” He expressed gratitude for the numerous staff members who had supported and elevated his work over the years, naming several individuals who had played crucial roles in the district’s success.

Horton also took time to thank his family for their unwavering support throughout his career. He acknowledged his wife of 32 years, Jerral, who retired on the same day, and his sons, Brooks and Shane, who were present at the meeting. 

  • “I could not be where I am without them. They make me want to be the best person I can be every day when I get up,” Horton said.

He also recognized the importance of maintaining friendships outside of work to stay grounded, mentioning his “boat crew” and golf friends who helped him relax and “not think about work.”

While expressing that he would miss his job tremendously, Horton recognized it was time for someone else to take on his responsibilities. “You’re losing a deputy superintendent, but you’re gaining an unpaid cheerleader,” he quipped, assuring the board and his colleagues of his continued support for the district.

“We are always part of the OCSD family and I’ll always be grateful and always be a phone call away,” he said.

In closing, Horton praised the professionalism and student-focused approach of his colleagues. “When you have leadership like you board members and Mr. Chambers, it makes our jobs easy because we know which direction the compass points and we know which way to move.”

As Okaloosa County Schools bid farewell to a key figure in their leadership, they also celebrate the lasting legacy of commitment and excellence that Steve Horton leaves behind. True to the spirit of “Horton’s Heard It All,” Horton had indeed heard – and responded to – countless calls for leadership, guidance, and support throughout his career. 

  • From weather warnings to mentoring programs, from community events to complex administrative tasks, Horton’s impact resonated through every aspect of the district’s operations, just as the playful rhyme had recounted.

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