Destin Middle School kicks off its 15th year with five of its original staff members still on board.



The staff that has been at DMS since day one are Merri Willis, Patricia Malpass, Patti Kroeger — who are all teachers, Dwana Neyendorf in bookkeeping and Vikki Griffin in student services.



In its first year in 1997, DMS had 27 teachers and 507 students. There are currently 35 teachers and 608 students at the school. 



Merri Willis, 6th and 8th-grade advanced math teacher, and Patricia Malpass, 7th-grade math teacher and girl’s golf coach are two DMS veterans.



Willis has been teaching for 32 years total, and Malpass for 20 years.



Willis and Malpass said they were two of 13 teachers that came from Bruner Middle School to work at DMS when it first opened, and that they are the only two from Bruner remaining.



“When we first started this school, we didn’t have enough desks, the lockers weren’t installed … “ said Malpass.



“We were supposed to have three wings,” said Willis. “There was supposed to be a 6th-grade wing, 7th-grade wing and 8th-grade wing, and there were only two wings built.”



Earlier this year, DMS installed two portables located near the bus ramp due to the expansion of its 5th-grade program and the need to move upper-level classes off the front ramp and keep the younger levels near the office area for supervision.



Football was a major part of the school back then as it is now.



“My son played football, so I remember the football games and we had a lot of good athletes on the team,” said Malpass. She even remembers the football team struggling during the school’s second year.



“Until we played Louis Middle School, and it was at Niceville Stadium, and we beat Louis,” said Malpass. “And it was like winning the Super Bowl. It was like the first win of Destin Middle School.”



Another memorable moment came when the Whaling Wall at Legendary Marina was painted.



“We went over there and watched the artist paint that … ” Willis said. She and Malpass remember taking their students to the over 71,000-square-foot marina while Wyland was painting it more than 10 years ago.



Malpass said that the way in which she teaches has changed since day one at the school with the addition of more advanced technology like SMART Boards and Mimios, and document cameras.



“They’re used to all the technology now because they play video games and they’re used to immediate feedback, and if it’s not like that in the classroom, they get bored,” Malpass said.



Patti Kroeger, who’s been teaching for 30 years, teaches 7th-grade honors and regular English at DMS. 



Kroeger taught for the first nine years of DMS. She then retired for three years, and later came back to DMS for good.



“We had a huge theater program — a speech and drama program — back then,” Kroger said.



Kroeger remembers her “thespian troop” having more than 100 students in it. However, the program was done away with when funding became an issue.



“Probably the one thing that has changed to me is that interaction between all subject areas,” Kroeger said. “We all meet together and we talk about the strengths and weaknesses of our students.”



Neyendorf said something that sticks out in her mind from the school’s first years is “the excitement from the children and the community to finally have a middle school in Destin.”



“Parents, community members and business owners were volunteering their time and also giving financially to help build the Technology Lab as well as other things,” Neyendorf said.



She also said that many changes have been made at the school over 15 years.



“The one that I feel hit the students hardest was the implementation of the school uniform dress code.”



The uniforms were enforced during the 2001-2002 school year and are still ongoing. The uniforms consist of uniform shirts that the staff and students have to wear Monday through Thursday.



For Griffin, the most changed characteristic of DMS is what lay at its entry.



“The area in front of the school offices used to have an old boat as part of the landscape,” said Griffin. “The boat has been replaced by a beautiful Marlin fountain and butterfly garden.”



“There’s something special about being together at the very beginning of something,” said Kroeger.



Destin Middle School kicks off its 15th year with five of its original staff members still on board.



The staff that has been at DMS since day one are Merri Willis, Patricia Malpass, Patti Kroeger — who are all teachers, Dwana Neyendorf in bookkeeping and Vikki Griffin in student services.



In its first year in 1997, DMS had 27 teachers and 507 students. There are currently 35 teachers and 608 students at the school. 



Merri Willis, 6th and 8th-grade advanced math teacher, and Patricia Malpass, 7th-grade math teacher and girl’s golf coach are two DMS veterans.



Willis has been teaching for 32 years total, and Malpass for 20 years.



Willis and Malpass said they were two of 13 teachers that came from Bruner Middle School to work at DMS when it first opened, and that they are the only two from Bruner remaining.



“When we first started this school, we didn’t have enough desks, the lockers weren’t installed … “ said Malpass.



“We were supposed to have three wings,” said Willis. “There was supposed to be a 6th-grade wing, 7th-grade wing and 8th-grade wing, and there were only two wings built.”



Earlier this year, DMS installed two portables located near the bus ramp due to the expansion of its 5th-grade program and the need to move upper-level classes off the front ramp and keep the younger levels near the office area for supervision.



Football was a major part of the school back then as it is now.



“My son played football, so I remember the football games and we had a lot of good athletes on the team,” said Malpass. She even remembers the football team struggling during the school’s second year.



“Until we played Louis Middle School, and it was at Niceville Stadium, and we beat Louis,” said Malpass. “And it was like winning the Super Bowl. It was like the first win of Destin Middle School.”



Another memorable moment came when the Whaling Wall at Legendary Marina was painted.



“We went over there and watched the artist paint that … ” Willis said. She and Malpass remember taking their students to the over 71,000-square-foot marina while Wyland was painting it more than 10 years ago.



Malpass said that the way in which she teaches has changed since day one at the school with the addition of more advanced technology like SMART Boards and Mimios, and document cameras.



“They’re used to all the technology now because they play video games and they’re used to immediate feedback, and if it’s not like that in the classroom, they get bored,” Malpass said.



Patti Kroeger, who’s been teaching for 30 years, teaches 7th-grade honors and regular English at DMS. 



Kroeger taught for the first nine years of DMS. She then retired for three years, and later came back to DMS for good.



“We had a huge theater program — a speech and drama program — back then,” Kroger said.



Kroeger remembers her “thespian troop” having more than 100 students in it. However, the program was done away with when funding became an issue.



“Probably the one thing that has changed to me is that interaction between all subject areas,” Kroeger said. “We all meet together and we talk about the strengths and weaknesses of our students.”



Neyendorf said something that sticks out in her mind from the school’s first years is “the excitement from the children and the community to finally have a middle school in Destin.”



“Parents, community members and business owners were volunteering their time and also giving financially to help build the Technology Lab as well as other things,” Neyendorf said.



She also said that many changes have been made at the school over 15 years.



“The one that I feel hit the students hardest was the implementation of the school uniform dress code.”



The uniforms were enforced during the 2001-2002 school year and are still ongoing. The uniforms consist of uniform shirts that the staff and students have to wear Monday through Thursday.



For Griffin, the most changed characteristic of DMS is what lay at its entry.



“The area in front of the school offices used to have an old boat as part of the landscape,” said Griffin. “The boat has been replaced by a beautiful Marlin fountain and butterfly garden.”



“There’s something special about being together at the very beginning of something,” said Kroeger.