Belinda Small was destined to be new principal at Destin Middle School
With boxes still to unpack, Belinda Small was sporting a big welcoming smile on her face as she settled into her new role as principal of Destin Middle School.
Small was approved at the Okaloosa County School Board meeting June 28 and started the next day.
“I’m very grateful for their approval,” said Small, who has been an educator in Okaloosa County for almost three decades.
Small, a graduate of Niceville High School, went to Jefferson Davis College in Brewton, Alabama, on a softball scholarship and then got a scholarship to Troy University, where she met her husband, Chris Small.
After school she moved to Atlanta, but then got engaged and decided to move back home to Okaloosa County.
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“I took a substitute teaching job and I was planning my wedding. I fell in love with the kids,” Small said.
She was subbing at Richbourg Middle School in Crestview in a science class.
At that point, she knew teaching and education was for her.
During that time 20-plus years ago, Richbourg Middle was overcrowded and Davidson Middle School was birthed in Crestview while Destin Middle School was being built in the south end. The two schools shared ideas.
Small and her husband followed the principal from Richbourg to Davidson Middle School. Chris Small is still at Davidson and serves as athletic director, football coach and girls golf coach, as well as teaches history.
Although they were both in Crestview at Davidson, Belinda Small knew she was destined for Destin.
“I always knew, that one day I would be at Destin Middle School. I talked about it all my life. I never lost sight of that,” she said as she sat in her new office last Thursday afternoon.
But before she got to her destiny, she spent 10 years teaching seventh-grade language arts in middle school and 10 years teaching fifth grade at Antioch Elementary in Crestview.
She also served as an assistant principal for five years at Bob Sikes Elementary before a short-stint at Shoal River before being transferred to Ruckel Middle School. where she spent the past five years as an assistant principal.
“Being at home at Ruckel was very special to me and the relationships I built there because that is where I finished my school career. So that community is very special to me and the people over there have been so good to me,” Small said.
“But I’m so excited to be here. It’s sad to leave those relationships, but I’m so excited,” she said with a big smile on her face.
Small spent Wednesday morning meeting with the school's leadership team and talking individually with staff.
“The people are so warm and welcoming. They are so awesome. They are energetic, happy. And I’m happy. I feel very blessed,” she said.
On Tuesday, she spent time with former Destin Principal Grant Meyer, who will be working in the School District office.
“Mr. Meyer has been very gracious to share his time with me to make the transition very smooth. He’s helped me get my bearings and get organized, so that it is the best scenario for the students, the community and teachers,” she said.
As for the staff at Destin Middle, Small said, “Stellar, stellar. They are true professionals that care about this community and they care about their students. It’s very obvious. What else could you ask for? They are very dedicated to their work.”
Small is ready to dig in and meet the community.
From 3:30-5 p.m. July 8, Small will have an “afternoon tea with the principal.”
“It’s just a meet-and-greet in the media center for anyone in the community that just wants to stop by. I love to meet people and the parents in the community,” she said.
Also on the calendar for July 27 is a “newcomers welcome” at the school.
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The event is for students coming into fifth grade as well as anyone new to the area. It will be a meet-and-greet walking tour to get the students familiar with the campus.
Then the day before school starts, “We’ll do our formal orientation for everyone,” Small said.
As for “Readiness Day,” the plans have not been finalized.
Also on the list for the new school year is a return to normalcy.
“It was an extremely hard year for everyone,” Small said of schools everywhere that dealt with COVID-19 protocols. “We’re going back to our routines until further notice … but with a constant check on the situation.
“But we’re feeling really happy to get back to some normalcy,” she said.
Goals and moving forward
“I’m going to honor the hard work of the teachers and what Mr. Meyer has already put in motion in their mission statement,” she said. “And to continue to align the school with this vision.”
The mission statement of the school is “to ensure every student has a successful future, DMS creates a culture of academic excellence through positive relationships, inclusion and collaboration.”
Small said she plans to follow that vision.
“Make sure we’re creating a positive, happy place to come and learn. It’s all about the kids and that’s what we’re here to do. I think getting back to normal is best for everyone,” she said.
So far, the support staff at the school this summer have been great, Small said.
“They have got me up and running. They have been so helpful. And the administration staff, Mrs. Dillon and Karl Schroeder, are so willing to offer me help. It’s such an exciting time for me.”
“I really love the tight-knit community feel here. Just a wonderful vibe,” she said.
But the best is yet to come for Small.
“I can’t wait to see kids on campus here," Small said. "That’s where I get my energy when I get in those classrooms and see the kids or out on the ball fields. I look forward to that … seeing their smiling faces and them hard at work. Becoming life-long learners, that gets me fired up.”