Destin Elementary School welcomed a new dolphin to the pod this month naming George "Al" Gardner as principal for the upcoming school year.



A lifetime local of Northwest Florida, Gardner grew up in Valparaiso and graduated from Niceville High School before earning a degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of West Florida.



In the late 1980s, after years of working in real estate and the construction industry, Gardner followed the path of his parents.



“Both of my parents were educators here, and my wife is an educator; In fact, I have a family full of educators,” said Gardner.



Over the past 26 years, Gardner has served Okaloosa County Schools in numerous positions and said his transition between careers happened seamlessly.



“When I was working in home construction I taught construction trades; that’s when I got my first opportunity to go into teaching,” he said.



Since that first teaching experience, Gardner has taught Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) math and science, worked as principal of Choice High School and Technical Center and served as assistant principal in three area middle schools.



With his recent move from Destin Middle School, Gardner said that he has plans to implement new ideas to equip the older students with the tools they need to move up to the next level.



“I plan to work closely with the middle school on some transition initiatives for our fourth graders,” he said. “I want to make that as painless as possible for our kids and make sure they are ready to go.”



Gardner said this year he is excited to be trying something new in his career; as this will be his first year working in an elementary school.



“I’m really looking forward to it, especially working with the little ones,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to working with the children of Destin, the teachers and the parents. I hope they feel like it is an open and inviting environment.”



Jumping in to his new position just one month before the new school year, Gardner added that he is very impressed by the level of teacher, parent and student participation at DES.



“One thing I aim to do is to maintain the excellence of this school,” he said. “We are fortunate in Destin to have involved parents and good kids. We have a very enthusiastic group of teachers here; they are passionate and we are all in it for the kids.”