From elementary to high school, Destin now has it all

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

For the first time, Destin has a school for every grade level and all three schools survived the first few days of the school year that kicked off Tuesday. 

“The first day of school is always exciting for new and returning students alike,” said Destin Elementary School Principal Joe Jannazo. “We were very glad, while remaining mindful of health and safety protocols, to be returning back to more of a normal start.”

Destin Elementary School Principal Joe Jannazo assists students to find their ride in the car line Wednesday afternoon.

Masks are not mandatory for the students, but health and safety “will always be our No. 1 priority,” Jannazo added. 

The elementary school continues to have wellness signage, protocols and practices on campus. 

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Destin Elementary, home of the Dolphins, houses pre-K to fourth grade and boasts almost 950 students, one of the largest in the Okaloosa County School District. 

And all 900-plus students were back in the classroom Tuesday, with MySchoolOnline no longer an option. 

“Our numbers are right in line with where we have been over the last few years,” said Jannazo, who noted that the school is planning for growth to about 980 students by year's end. “We look forward to Superintendent (Marcus) Chambers' continued vision and focus on moving into the next generation of Okaloosa schools with upgrades to our campus facilities and classrooms.”

Kindergartner Cade Windes gets a hug from his teacher Mary Noser on Wednesday afternoon at Destin Elementary School. Noser taught Cade's dad, Trey Windes, in 1991.

On a more personal note, Jannazo said, “I am proud to have the opportunity to continue to serve this amazing community and I am grateful for the community’s continued support of the school. We could not do it without our tremendous community partners.” 

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Destin Middle School, which serves fifth- to eighth-graders, has been in existence for 24 years and is going strong. 

This year the middle school, home of the Marlins and located at the foot of the Mid-Bay Bridge, is under the helm of a new principal, Belinda Small. Small is not new to education in Okaloosa County, having served in Crestview and Niceville. 

Destin Elementary School second-grade teacher Elizabeth Black assists a couple students onto their ride home Wednesday afternoon.

Her goal this year was to see things get back to normal in the classroom. 

The newest addition to the school scene in Destin, after years effort and multiple attempts, is Destin High School on Commons Drive next to the Aquatic Center. 

“It was almost overwhelming to walk in and see the auditorium full of students,” said Prebble Ramswell, president of Destin High's governing board. 

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Several board members were on hand Tuesday morning as almost 300 students filed in to the home of the Sharks.  

“It really hit home that we did it. … We accomplished something that so many people thought would never happen,” Ramswell said. 

The possibility of a Destin High has been talked about for more than 30 years, but five years ago a group gathered and stuck with it, and on Tuesday their dream became a reality. 

Regan and Riley Palmer enter Destin High School on Tuesday. The sisters said they were glad to be in the same school again. Regan was at Rocky Bayou Christian School last year while Riley was at Destin Middle School.

“The energy and excitement of everyone on campus was impossible to ignore,” Ramswell said. “Seeing students roam the halls while chatting with friends, watching faculty enthusiastically greet their classes, and volunteers bustling about offering assistance led to an energy and spirit of community like nothing I’ve experienced.”

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“I think it’s super cool,” said freshman Hannah Baxley as she was walked into the building with backpack in tow on Tuesday. 

Brackin Cobb, who attended South Walton High last year, said the idea of a fishing class “hooked” him. 

Hands shot up when Destin High School Principal Christine Cruickshank asked who wanted a stuffed baby shark at the opening assembly on Tuesday.

The students weren’t the only ones excited. So was Principal Christine Cruickshank. 

“I think the first day was a great day,” she said. “There were the regular first-day fixes, but that is normal in any school.” 

But the best part of her day was to have all the students in the auditorium ready to get started, she said. 

“Some said it couldn’t be done,” Cruickshank said. 

Destin High School science teacher Peyton Mararenco hands out paperwork to students as they arrive for the first day of school Tuesday.

And day one “was everything I dreamed of and more,” she said. "I will remember walking around at lunch Tuesday and Wednesday and talking with students and hearing how great their classes and teachers are.

“By day three things are running smoothly,” Cruickshank added. “It’s a great day to be a Shark."