Principal Kelley leaving Destin Middle for position with school district

Jacob Fuller
After five years as principal of Destin Middle School, Dianne Kelley is leaving this week to take the newly created position of Director of Principal Evaluation, Training and Leadership with the Okaloosa County School District.

In her last week as principal of Destin Middle School, Dianne Kelley remembers several additions she helped usher in during her five years as the Dolphins' leader.

Some of the most important changes Kelley helped make at Destin Middle included moving all 5th graders into the middle school, getting multiple computer labs for students and instituting a leadership program, which has become one the school's most popular student clubs.

"It's been a great five years," Kelley told The Log. "The next person is really inheriting a dream. It's a great school to be in. It's a great faculty, great families to work with (and) great business partners."

When Kelley took the job as principal in 2008, she helped usher in two classes of 5th grade students. Those classes were made up of students with special skills and interests in fine arts and foreign language. The move helped ease the pressure on Destin Elementary, which was facing issues with overcrowding.

Over the next few years, two more classes of 5th graders moved to Destin Middle School, but the grade was still divided. Finally, in August of this year, Kelley and former Destin Elementary School principal Marti Gardner decided to make the move complete and send the remaining 5th graders to Destin Middle.

"It really was a collaboration," Kelley said. "It could easily have been an us-versus-them kind of thing."

Though some parents were worried about their 5th graders going to the same school with older children at first, their feelings soon changed after the move.

"We did have a few parents that wanted to push back," Kelley said. "Almost to a person, those same families have come back in here and said, 'We don't really know why we were so worried. This has turned out to be the greatest experience for our students. They are loving it.' "

A former district director of technology, Kelley believes it is important to keep education up to date in the ever-expanding world of electronics. That task is usually much easier said than done, though.

"By the time you order, pay for and receive a piece of technology, it's old. It really is," Kelley said.

Kelley has helped provide Destin Middle School students with plenty of hands-on opportunities with computers, though. The school now has two mobile computer labs, one iPad lab and another on the way, as well as two computer lab classrooms.

The school district projects the need for 45 new administrators in the next three-to-five years. In her new position, Kelley will help train those new and returning administrators in what it takes to lead a successful school.

"The fact that our school board and our superintendent recognize this need in advance so we can do something about helping these people to be prepared for these jobs — and once they are in these jobs, giving them the tools that they need to continue to be successful and some level of support once they've gotten the job — I think that is just amazing," Kelley said.