Destin High Principal Christine Cruickshank ranks first year of new school a 9 out of 10

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

With the first year of Destin High School coming to a close, Principal Christine Cruickshank says if she had to rank the first year, “I’d make it a nine out of 10.” 

“With anything new you have your growing pains, growing spurts and many, many learning moments,” Cruickshank said. 

Destin High School opened its doors in August of 2021 for the first time with an enrollment of 300 students in grades 9 through 11 offering classes in everything from language arts, mathematics, social studies to even a fishing class. 

Sitting in her office last week, Cruickshank said things are looking up for next year. 

Principal Christine Cruickshank talks with students returning from their lunch breaks as Destin High School's first year draws to a close.

“More things are in place that are consistent,” she said, such as knowing the students and who is coming. “Last year at this time we were just getting going. We weren’t sure what we’d have to work with or who was coming. Now we know who we have and who is coming.” 

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Cruickshank has spent the last four to five weeks meeting with new families and students, picking out classes and getting to know them a bit. 

“I’m going to keep trying to do that as long as I can. I don’t know if it’s feasible with 800 (students), but right now we’re still doing it,” she said. 

Destin High is looking at an enrollment of 475 students in grades 9 through 12, which is maximum for the facility, with a waiting list. 

To house the additional 175 students in 2022-23, Destin High will be adding four portable classrooms that will be placed on the back side of the building near the bus ramp. 

“Hopefully, that will all be up and running when we open Aug. 10 for year two,” she said. 

Accomplishments 

Last year at this time, the goal was to get students here, get the doors open, get the curriculum going and get the classes going. 

“Did we exceed what I thought we would do? Absolutely,” Cruickshank said. “The fact is that we pretty much have everything a standard high school has going this year and then some.”

Cruickshank then listed some of the many accomplishments.  

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She started with what she described as the “phenomenal music and arts program.” The music and arts program has had two concerts, a showcase and two drama productions, one with a sell-out crowd. 

The art program has had multiple award winners in programs and art shows, bringing home 27 ribbons. 

The fishing class with Capt. Mike Parker is going strong and just finished up with one final tournament at Legendary Marine. 

In addition to all the academics, “who knew we would be running 22 full sports. That has been an absolute trip … there is no other word for it,” she said. 

Destin High fielded teams in golf, swimming, tennis, volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball, golf, wrestling, cross country, soccer, flag football and the most recent addition, football, which started a few weeks ago with spring training. 

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Athletic Director Phil Dorn said at the beginning of the year it was always the “vision, plan and hope” to do as many sports as possible. 

“I kind of took the approach, I’m going to go full speed and we’re going to do everything I think is possible. 

"We did well and then some. The community getting behind it and absorbing the concept … and our kids going from sport to sport has just been the best thing ever,” Dorn said. 

Dorn expressed appreciation for the community support, noting the high school had no home facilities. 

The teams played and practiced all around town from Morgan Sports Center, Destin Elementary School fields, Destin United Methodist Church for basketball, Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club for golf, Seascape for tennis, and Destin Middle School for soccer and football. 

Principal Christine Cruickshank smiles as she recounts the many successes as Destin High School’s first year draws to a close.

“We’re very grateful,” Dorn said. “It just shows you what a community can do when everybody partners and works together … by that I mean parents, students, teachers, coaches. This is our charge, let's go see what we can get done.”

And the student athletes not only competed but won games along the way. 

“They have played full schedules … they all look good and they all have uniforms,” Cruickshank said. 

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Over spring break, staff, students and others all pitched in to build a beach volleyball course so they could have beach volleyball at the school. 

“I think what excites me the most about this year is watching students be able to participate in and do things that they might not be able to do anywhere else, because we are small," Cruickshank said. 

“The number of multiple sport athletes has been absolutely amazing," she added. "The number of never played this before, never played this instrument, never played this sport, never been on a stage, never did this before ... has just been so much fun to watch … to watch them grow as young people. The chance to do it gives me goose bumps. That’s the most exciting thing to watch.”

Cruickshank said she dreamed this all could happen, but never did she think it could be real.

“But it actually happened,” she said, but not without some sleepless nights and long weeks. “But it’s for the students.”

Cruickshank said on occasion that the four years of high school are supposed to be some of the “best four years of their educational life. Hopefully we have started them on that track.” 

Bumps and Positives 

For the most part it was a matter of “just trying to keep up with everything,” Cruickshank said.  

Sometimes they were setting policy as they went along. 

“It’s been a huge learning process. You don’t think about certain things and then the next thing you know, we need a policy for this or that,” she said. 

As for the first semester, “it was a lot on the fly … but always to make it better,” she said. 

Okaloosa County Sheriffs Office School Resource Officer Tom Henry and Principal Christine Cruickshank talk about upcoming programs as Destin High School’s first year draws to a close.

Cruickshank said she and staff had several sit-down meetings to see what they could do to make it even better, such as revising handbooks and schedules a little bit to make things a little smoother. 

As for a positive, the “Power Hour” was a hit with the students, which gives students a 50-minute lunch break where lunch is provided by Chick-Fil-A, Subway and Culver’s just to name a few.. 

“And I think they really loved the choices of classes,” she said. “But they’re high school kids, some you’re not going to make happy and some you are going to make happy every day.”

DAYS TO COME 

With more students comes a need for more teachers. 

Cruickshank is looking to hire 12 teachers across the core areas.

“I’m looking for anyone who wants to take on a special adventure,” she said. 

Dorn also noted there some openings for coaches in boys' soccer, cross country and track and field. 

“We have been blessed with a special staff. None of this could have happened without the staff we have now,” Cruickshank said. 

In addition to new teachers, the school is adding a culinary class for 2022-23. In this class, students will learn the basics and will be able to move right into kitchen work in the local restaurants. 

“To me this is a special place,” Cruickshank said of Destin High. “We’re more than a school and a staff, we're family. You can’t go through the things we have and get through the bumps in the road and still be smiling and liking each other. 

“So, we’d love to have more people come grow with us and join our family. The future of Destin High is 'Jawsome,' ” she added, referencing the school's mascot Bruce the Shark.