Fort Walton Beach High School, Pace High School and South Walton High School grew by a total of nearly 400 students. District officials say the growth is a good thing.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Fort Walton Beach High School enrolled 126 more students than last year. South Walton High School enrollment jumped by 117 students. And Pace High School crossed the 2,000 student threshold for the first time in its 47-year history, rising by 132 students this year.

In the Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa school systems, growth in the number of students attending their schools each year has become common place.

For Okaloosa County the surprise is Fort Walton Beach.

“We anticipated growth at Fort Walton but not as much as we appear to have this year,” said Steve Horton, an Okaloosa school system assistant superintendent. “By the time we reach October when the state captures initial enrollment for funding purposes, I expect they will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 students higher than expected. That’s a manageable number.”

In the 2014-2015 school year, Fort Walton boasted 1,647 students and has steadily grown since then to 1,893 this year — a 15% increase over that period and a 7.1 percent increase over last year.

Overall, the Okaloosa enrollment went up by 626 students to 31,012 for the 2019-2020 school year.

 

Horton said the 2% increase in total enrollment surpasses the district’s projections.

“A growing enrollment is a good thing,” Horton said.

Walton, which recorded the fourth highest rate of growth in Florida at 29.3%, witnessed its high school enrollments increase by 9.8%. South Walton High School accounted for 54% of the increase, adding 117 students to reach 950. In 2014-2015, it had 683 registered students.

Principal Alexis Tibbits, whose school added 11 new classrooms earlier this year, predicted South Walton would pack in 1,000 students before the end of the school year.

Overall, the Walton County school system had 419 more students in its classrooms, so far, going from 9,660 at the end of last year to 10,079 this year.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa County’s six high schools posted an increase of 446, with the largest jump coming at Pace, which now has 2,048 students. However, Navarre still remains the largest high school in Santa Rosa with enrollment at 2,359.

Overall, Santa Rosa gained 380 students this school year. While enrollments increased at high schools and middle schools by 647, elementary schools dropped by 267 students.

“This is the second year of that trend,” said Bill Emerson, who oversees enrollment for Santa Rosa schools. “It’s a mystery why this is going on. But we expect most to show up eventually.”