Stein takes the reins: New Destin Elementary principal to revitalize art, music and tech programs

Jacob Fuller
Destin Elementary has a new principal. Janet Stein will welcome kids back to class Monday.

After just one semester at the Okaloosa School District office, Janet Stein has returned to the role of school principal. In her first year at Destin Elementary, she will implement some big changes.

Stein joined the school district in 2002 as principal of Elliott Point Elementary School in Fort Walton Beach. Under her leadership, the school received an "A" grade from the state for 10-consecutive years. Success as a school is measured by more than test scores, though, Stein told The Log. Some educators mold student instruction to the questions on state standardized tests. Stein said that is not in the best interest of the students.

"It's not all about passing the test and performing. It's about learning. If you can keep the ball on the kids (and) what's good for the kids, then the ball’s in the right place. If we put the ball over here with, 'Are we going to pass the test? Are we going to have enough points on the A-Plus plan? Are we going to look good?' Then you are chasing the wrong ball," Stein said.

A key component of Stein's plan to focus on the students' critical thinking skills is a revitalized focus on art, music and technology in the school. She has hired a new music teacher, and implemented an after-school art program. Students will also get the opportunity to participate in art, music and dance lessons twice a month during the school day.

"That's good for the kids who can't afford art, music and dance lessons outside of the school day," Stein said.

Curriculum and procedure changes are also on their way to Destin Elementary, along with all public schools, as the state of Florida implements the Common Core State Standards. The initiative was designed to create new standards for schools to help make students college-and-career ready. The changes Destin Elementary students and parents will see this year include an increase in math instructions from 60 to 90 minutes per day, as well as integration in the instruction of reading, writing, spelling, social studies and science, to be known as English Language Arts.

Teachers will focus on getting students to read what Stein called "authentic texts." This means students won't just read a textbook explanation of a classic work of literature, but they will read the actual classic work.

"The vision I have is that the children walk around the school and don't want to talk to me about my jewelry or my new shoes, but they want to talk to me about the book they are reading. And that it is contagious that kids love to read, that they talk to each other about the books they are reading. That's the kind of atmosphere that I want, where no matter what kind of home life a kid comes from, what kind of background they have (or) how many vacations they go on, they all learn to love to read and love literature and nonfiction," Stein said.

Stein said her transition into the role of principal at Destin Elementary has gone smoothly so far, but that she's had make changes to the way her office is run. There was nothing wrong with how office administrators operated under former principal Marti Gardner, Stein said, but every leader has her own style.

"When you change principal, there's always a change in protocol and procedures. But the faculty at Destin Elementary is outstanding. They are dedicated," Stein said.

Gardner became the director of elementary curriculum and instruction at Okaloosa School District, Stein's former position, in July. Stein spent just five months in the job before deciding she wanted to be back in a school setting. Stein said Gardener first came to her with the idea, and then they told the district they would like to switch positions.

Class begins Monday for students. Stein said safety and security is the top priority on the first day. The next step is to use the first 10 days to set a tone for the rest of the year that allows students to learn.

"If you want children to have choice, you want them to make decisions (and) you want them to be engaged, you have to have a clear structure in the classroom so you don't have chaos," Stein said.