Donna Barton, 'a lifelong educator that loved,' retires from Destin Elementary after 35 years
For the past 35 years, Donna Barton has spent her days in the classroom teaching at Destin Elementary School. But Wednesday, Dec. 15, she checked roll for the last time.
"I’ve always been told that you know when it’s time and I just felt like it was time to move on,” Barton said sitting in her classroom for the last time Wednesday.
Barton is looking forward to a new grandbaby coming in February.
“I just wanted to be able to spend time as often as I wanted without getting a sub and lesson plans. I just want to enjoy that grandbaby,” she said.
Barton has taught at Destin Elementary for 35 years, plus four years in Alabama prior to moving to the Emerald Coast, for a total of 39 years in the classroom.
“It’s time,” she said.
Barton taught kindergarten years ago in Alabama. At Destin Elementary, she has taught third, fourth and fifth grade. When fifth grade was moved to the middle school, Barton, who “loved it at Destin Elementary,” settled in and went to fourth grade and for the last few years she’s taught math and science to third graders.
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Barton not only loves Destin Elementary, but the community as well.
“I just think Destin is a unique place. It’s a community and Destin Elementary is a community school,” she said.
“If you need something, these parents are going to pull together to get what Destin needs for these kids to have success in education,” Barton added.
She also loves being in the community with the kids.
“I love going to the baseball field in the spring and watching them get up to bat … that’s just happiness,” she said.
She also runs into her students at the grocery store or at church.
“You are a real person to them because they see you out and about,” she said.
Plus, she counts it a joy to be able to see kids that she has taught, for 35 years, as well as teaching the children of students she has taught in the past.
“I still see them. I think that’s very unique. And you get to see the successes,” she said.
Barton shared a “success story” from a student she taught her first year at Destin Elementary.
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“He was repeating fifth grade and he was a handful,” she said. “If I was ever climbing around in the room, he was the one who was always afraid I would fall. So, he had a kind heart.”
Fast forward many years, and she has his little boy in her classroom.
Today the young man from her first year of teaching, who lives nearby, still stops by and asks if she needs anything. And every year at Halloween she leaves the light on until he and his family come by.
“He is such a success in life,” she said, noting he just got a promotion. “I’m just so proud of the person and man, father and husband he is.”
But it doesn’t stop with just that young man.
“I’ve got doctors, lawyers and everything in between. It just does your heart … it just makes you so proud to see the success that they are,” she said.
And the love she has had for the students is evident.
“Mrs. Barton can be described as a lifelong educator that loved,” said Destin Elementary Principal Joe Jannazo. “She loved her students, her school, her co-workers, the professions, working to get better every day, the good times and the tough.
“She has one of the biggest hearts you can find and many hundreds of Destin families were impacted by her love. She has been a cornerstone of this school and this community for 35 years,” he added.
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“To say that we will miss her is an immense understatement,” he said. “Thank you, Donna Barton, for your years of love, compassion, and caring for our community.”
Saying bye to Destin Elementary isn’t easy for Barton.
“I’ll miss this,” she said as she looked around her classroom. “I’ll miss those little eyes looking at me.
“I will miss when I’m teaching a new concept and one of them goes … 'Oh, I see, I see what you’re saying Mrs. Barton.' Those light bulb moments,” she said.
“It’s going to be a tough day,” she said just a few hours before walking out the door for the last time.
Barton talked with her class the day before about a new teacher coming in January.
“One of them was crying and then I started crying,” she said. “Today at 3 o’clock it’s going to be hard … it’s going to be very hard.”
In addition to missing her students, Barton said she will miss staff. She is part of a third-grade team of teachers.
“We not only love each other but we really like each other,” she said, noting they all, 10 women and one man, went to dinner earlier in the week.
As of Dec. 17, the students are on Christmas break until Jan. 3.
Barton’s plan for January, “sleep.”
“People ask, ‘are you going to travel?’… no, I just want to sleep,” she said.
All kidding aside, Barton said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. This has been my world for so long, I’ve got to just sit and decide what the new normal is … I don’t know what it is."
For the past 35 years she has awakened every morning and did the same thing, go to school.
“I’ve led a very routine life for 35 years. Right now, I can’t wrap my head around what’s happening. It’s not real yet,” Barton said. “When I hear that school bus come by in the morning, that will be hard.
“It’s going to be hard to not want to come back up and see the kids,” she added.
Right now, she’s looking at maybe coming back to substitute teach in a year.
“I can just love on them and have fun and not worry about state testing,” she said.
But Wednesday, as she left Destin Elementary, students and staff lined the hall ways and ushered her out with a “clap out.”
“I wish I knew the words to vocalize … I don’t know how I feel. Sad, happy, scared — all the above bundled into one,” Barton said.