As the Okaloosa County School District embarks on the start of a new semester, Superintendent Marcus Chambers highlighted several key achievements and initiatives from across the district in the first half of the 2023-24 school year.
- “It fills my heart to see the successes of our students excelling in academics, the arts, and athletics,” said Chambers. “I also see our teachers and administrative staff giving their all to build a positive school culture and prepare our students for college, the military, and the workforce.”
Okaloosa County earns a-rating from state education department
The Okaloosa County School District earned an A-rating for the 2023 school year from the Florida Department of Education, marking the ninth straight year the district has received the highest grade awarded by the state.
- Okaloosa is one of only three districts in Florida to earn top marks each year since the state began issuing district grades in 2014.
“I could not be more proud of our students, teachers, staff and administrators for this recognition,” Chambers said.
In December, the state released the 2023 Baseline School Grades based on a more rigorous statewide assessment. Okaloosa’s percentage of points earned increased from 63% last year to 68% this year.
Students excel in arts, athletics
Chambers touted district championships achieved by student-athletes in football, volleyball, cross country, swimming, cheerleading and golf. He also highlighted artistic achievements by middle and high school students in visual arts and music programs.
“I am proud of these programs and appreciate the time and energy our teachers and students put into their craft – they make us all very proud,” said Chambers.
Capital projects upgrade aging schools
Thanks to a sales tax program approved by county voters in 2020, the district has invested tens of millions of dollars into critical facility upgrades and new construction projects, according to Chambers.
So far, renovations have been completed at Longwood Elementary, Silver Sands School, Crestview High and Elliott Point Elementary. Projects are also underway at other elementary and middle schools throughout the county.
- “These projects are game changers for our district, and it’s exciting to showcase their completion,” Chambers said.
The superintendent said the upgrades, which include new roofs, flooring, furnishings and technology, are “critically important” for schools, some of which were built 40 years ago.
Throughout Florida, portable classrooms are not uncommon on school campuses. In Okaloosa County, Chambers says the District has been working on plans to reduce the number of portables since the Half-Cent Sales Tax was approved in November 2020.
- Classroom addition projects, like the one at Elliott Point, do just that.
Construction planned for new K-8 school
The district’s first new school construction project since 2007 is in development. Plans call for a new kindergarten through 8th grade school in Crestview to serve 1,200 students beginning in fall 2026.
- A 32-classroom addition is also being designed for Destin Elementary to open in 2026. And the district is exploring expansion options in the Niceville area to address future growth there.
Chambers said addressing aging infrastructure and future enrollment growth will remain priorities in coming years.
School bus fleet gets a makeover
The district’s school bus fleet, once the oldest in the state, is getting overhauled through an aggressive replacement program launched last year.
In 2021, Okaloosa took delivery of 40 new buses. With another 15 buses on order for 2024, the district will have acquired 91 new buses in just three years.
Career education expands workforce pathways
The district currently offers 19 specialized career and technical education courses aimed at preparing students for jobs in industries like construction, technology, healthcare and more.
- Chambers said hands-on, work-based learning opportunities are key to ensuring programs align with student interests and local workforce demands.
Recent grants have enabled new investments in the building trades and automotive programs at Crestview High School. And $7.85 million in Triumph Gulf Coast funding will establish a new northern campus for Okaloosa Technical College to serve residents and industries around Bob Sikes Airport.
“I am excited about this opportunity between our District, OTC, and local economic development leaders,” said Chambers. “The location of this campus is near the epicenter of future economic growth for the Shoal River Ranch megasite and proximity to Bob Sikes Airport and the Okaloosa Industrial Air Park.”
Community partners help struggling families
Chambers highlighted new holiday assistance initiatives powered by staff, community partners and local families.
Last semester, more than 100 families received Thanksgiving meals through generous donations. An inaugural Angel Tree program also provided holiday gifts for 73 students in need.
- “I am forever thankful” for living in a community that supports schools and students, Chambers said.
As the second semester gets underway, Chambers encouraged families to actively monitor their child’s academic progress through the district’s online FOCUS portal.
“Our mission is to place students on a pathway to success by providing a world-class education,” he said. “I believe we have some of the most dedicated and devoted educators in Florida.”
But teachers must also receive the tools and resources they need, Chambers emphasized.
- He urged parents to reach out to their child’s teachers or school counselors with any questions or concerns about grades or performance.
“I hope you are as proud and excited as I am by the achievements, upgrades and new programming we have showcased from first semester,” said Chambers. “And I am forever thankful for the community support that makes it possible.”
The superintendent closed by rallying the community to come together and build on the momentum created across academics, arts and athletics.
- “Together, we will finish this school year strong!” Chambers said.