Destin High School is a big hit for prospective students and their parents

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

It’s fins up and full steam ahead for the new Destin High School. 

Last week, the $4.6 million purchase contract with Grace Lutheran Church was officially closed and the site on Commons Drive is now in the home of Destin High School. The tuition-free public charter school, and home of the Sharks, is set to open its doors for the 2021-22 school year in August to ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders in its first year. 

An artist's rendering from DAG Architects shows what Destin High School will look like. A construction crew will renovate the old Grace Lutheran Church building on Commons Drive and the school will open in the fall.

On Thursday evening, prospective students and parents got a chance to visit the new school, hear from some of the DHS governing board members, meet Principal Christina Cruickshank and hear about what Destin High has to offer. 

Prebble Ramswell, chairwoman of Destin High School's governing board, greets prospective students and their parents Thursday evening at the old Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive. The former church is being renovated so the school can open in the fall.

“I think I just got goosebumps,” DHS board Chairwoman Prebble Ramswell said as she stood at the back of the auditorium and watched it fill up for the meet-and-greet. “This seemed like a dream … but when I walked in, that’s when it became real.”

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Thursday's event divided into two sessions. The first was for ninth-graders and the second was for prospective sophomores and juniors.  

More than 150 prospective students and parents attended the first session, and about another 50-plus the second. 

Prospective Destin High School students and their parents gathered Thursday evening at the old Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive to learn more about the school. The former church is being renovated and will open as Destin High School in the fall.

“This is where we will have a group meeting every morning,” Ramswell told the people as they sat in the auditorium. 

Ramswell said the students would start their day at DHS by sitting and being together as a group.  

“It’s a great way to start the day,” she said. 

More:Destin High School pushes opening back one year to 2021

Destin High School has been five years in the making. 

“I’m thrilled to see it come to fruition,” Ramswell said. 

Last year it looked like Destin High might move into the Destin United Methodist Church facility, but that didn’t work out. Then COVID-19 swept through the area and put most everything on hold. 

“There's a lot of emotion tonight … thanks for believing in the vision,” said DHS board member Sarah Stone, who is in charge of fundraising. 

Destin High School board member Sarah Stone greets prospective students and their parents Thursday evening at the old Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive.

Stone put out a call for volunteers, especially in the graphic design department. She then asked the young teens in the crowd if they’ve ever been first at anything. 

“This is your moment to be first. This is your school. You’ll be creating traditions,” Stone said. 

She then listed several firsts that the students could experience at DHS, such as a first homecoming, parade, graduation, valedictorian, captains, as well as being first to set a record in sports. 

More:Destin High School board selects Christine Cruickshank as principal

Cruickshank then spoke and offered a PowerPoint presentation of some of the things DHS will offer. 

“A school brings community together,” Cruickshank said. “And as a charter school we can do things that other schools can’t … and more quickly.”

Destin High School Principal Christine Cruickshank talks with prospective students and their parents about the new school during a meet-and-greet event Thursday at the old Grace Lutheran Church, which will be converted to a school building.

Cruickshank also went over the curriculum goals. 

“It’s going to be student-driven,” she said. 

Some of the extras she spoke on were a “power hour,” sports and other extracurricular activities. 

The power hour is just that, an hour in the middle of the day when students can power up, eat lunch, catch up on homework, get tutoring, etc. 

DHS also will offer sports. For those sports such as football, which the new school will not have at first, students can continue to play at Fort Walton Beach, Niceville or wherever and still attend DHS. 

Destin High will have a full list of extracurricular activities to choose from.  

“They will be student-driven,” Cruickshank repeated. 

A sign greeted prospective Destin High School students and their parents Thursday evening at the old Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive.

Destin High will not have a kitchen at first, so it is partnering with various vendors such as Chick-fil-A, Subway, Chipotle and others to bring in lunches. 

The start time at Destin High will be later than most schools. The day will begin at 7:50 a.m. and go until 2:45 p.m. Students will have seven periods and the classes will be smaller. 

“Students will be known,” Cruickshank said. “I pride myself in knowing the students … students will not get lost and fall through the cracks.”

After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. 

The questions ranged from school uniforms to buses to security officers for the school. 

Prospective Destin High School students and their parents gathered Thursday evening at the old Grace Lutheran Church on Commons Drive to learn more about the school.

Cruickshank said there will be no uniforms, but they will have a school-appropriate dress code. School officials are looking to have buses and are working with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office to get a resource officer.  

She also said DHS will offer band and chorus, which she said they have had a lot of interest in already, as well as drama. 

One parent asked when merchandise for the school would be available. 

Cruickshank was all for getting the Destin High School brand and Sharks out in the community. 

Students in attendance at the meeting liked what they were hearing.  

“I’m interested in the power hour and the food … and that it starts later,” said Gabby Kruse, who will be entering ninth grade next year.  

Ella Harris agreed with Kruse about the power hour and the late start. 

“Some of the courses are really cool, too,” Harris said.  

“I like the power hour and that we get food catered like Chick-fil-A,” said Stacie Roberson, who added that she also is looking forward to band.  

“And I think it’s a cool idea that we all meet here in the morning with all the grade levels … so we don’t just all separate, because if you have friends in other grades you can still see them,” Kruse added. 

The Destin High School shark mascot makes an appearance during Thursday night's meet-and-greet for prospective students and their parents.

Dean Redmond, a former Destin Marlin and a freshman at Fort Walton Beach High, said he is considering Destin High School. The small classes, Chick-fil-A and going to school later piqued his interest. 

Redmond said he now has to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get to Fort Walton Beach each day. 

His mother, Elke Redmond, also liked what she heard but said they haven’t fully decided. 

Destin Lowery, whose son Rocco Skinner will be an 11th-grader next year, is excited about Destin High. 

“I’m definitely in. He’s been going to virtual school,” Lowery said.  

“This is perfect,” she said, noting they live in nearby Kelly Plantation. 

“I’m going to jump on the fundraising committee as well,” Lowery added. 

Fundraising is a critical component of opening the school. The start-up costs alone are $400,000 at a minimum. Long-term, the more revenue raised, the less needs to be financed, thus putting additional revenue into student programming, opportunities and options.

When DHS is fully operational, as with all public educational institutions, the school will receive state and federal funding. 

For more information about the school or to register, go to destinhighschool.org or drop by the school on Commons Drive between and 2-6 p.m. and visit with Cruickshank.