Destin High principal calls for everyone to 'come together'; board sets record straight
An emergency meeting of the Destin High School governing board ended before it really got started Friday afternoon, but not before hearing a cry from Principal Christine Cruickshank for everyone to “come together.”
The only call to action on the emergency meeting agenda was the renewal of Phil Dorn’s contract. Dorn serves as athletic director for the charter school, which is wrapping up its second year in just a matter of weeks.
Minutes after board Chair Denise Fountain called the meeting to order inside the Destin City Hall board room, governing board member Drew Palmer called a point of order.
Palmer said after getting the agenda at 10 the night before the meeting, he said the one item on the agenda did not rise to the level of an emergency meeting and made a motion to adjourn the meeting.
“We have a lot going on at Destin High School right now. A lot of great things … students are excelling,” Palmer said.
“We are about to graduate our first class. Amazing things are going on at Destin School,” Palmer said.
Palmer then said he would like everyone to hear from Cruickshank, while the motion sat on the table. That's when the topic that drew a standing room crowd to the meeting − social media speculation about the school's finances − was addressed.
Earlier coverage:Destin High wraps up year two, makes plans for graduation and the future
'We need to bring it back together'
“I hope to be able to get through this because Destin High School is my life and passion. And we need to bring it back together … we need to bring it back together,” said an emotional Cruickshank.
“We’re coming up on two years existence as a school. It hasn’t been easy, and we’ve made our mistakes. But here we are about to graduate the first class of Destin High School and how did that happen? Together,” she said.
“We had some challenging times, finances are tight, mistakes have been made. These are growing pains. We need to always keep our eyes on the prize - the students – the students, and we can get through this together,” Cruickshank said.
'There's a lot of opportunity':FWC holds boater safety classes at Destin High School
Cruickshank addressed the board and how it sets the stage for the school.
“You did the heavy lifting with a strong vision. They said it couldn’t be done, but you worked together to make it happen,” she said.
As for the teachers, “you took a chance on a startup high school and made something truly truly special. Things have been difficult at times, but we did this together,” she said.
More:Destin Sharks softball team rallies for last-inning victory over Laurel Hill
Cruickshank then addressed the parents and community.
“You trusted us with your students. You partnered with us when nobody else believed. Your students are excelling, and it takes a village and we did it together. We’re doing it together,” she reiterated.
And for the students, “You have made life-long impressions on the faculty and staff. You achieved academic and extracurricular results, and you did it together,” Cruickshank said.
“We are in trying times, that is not a question, but I believe in all of us … I know we have done this together and we can continue to do this if we work together,” she said.
More:Destin Sharks boys and girls tennis teams sweep Vernon Yellowjackets
Destin will be graduating 59 seniors at 7 p.m. on May 26.
“I like the accomplishments we have made and look forward to many more in the future, but we must do it and we must do it together. Let the past go and move forward,” she said as the crowd applauded.
A question was asked how they were going to keep the students out of the matter.
Cruickshank said she had already addessed the staff individually and there was to be no communication in the classroom about adult situations.
More:Another first for Destin High School: cap and gown photos for seniors
“I have asked students and parents that things on social media to remove it so we can move forward. It needs to be shut down, it needs to stop,” she said.
“We are not taking it lightly at the school. We can not work together if this does not stop across the board,” Cruickshank said.
In recent days there have been fingers pointed and things have been posted on social media. Students even started a Facebook page to support their teachers.
More:Why Fred 'Tripp' Tolbert donated $1 million to the Destin High athletic program
More:Destin High accomplishes more than anticipated in first semester with help from community
Recalling the past
Before the vote was called to adjourn, secretary and founding board member Heidi LoCicero addressed the group.
“Being back in this room, where the founding mothers and fathers dreamed of a Destin High School, is not lost on me today,” LoCicero said.
She talked about how they had no money, but in the end the community opened “their hearts along with wallets, checkbooks and minds to say how can we help make education local for the students of Destin and from there the rest is history,” LoCicero said.
More:Destin High Shark band has a wide range of experience, but happy and eager
More:Destin High's Bird Hinze makes All-State Chorus, again
She explained that the board is “diverse and dynamic” and doesn’t always agree on everything, but that is democracy and they work through problems and what’s the best way to move forward.
LoCicero said she felt confident in Cruickshank as well as the board to put the pieces back together and move forward.
“I know we can do it,” LoCicero said.
However, LoCicero said she didn’t want to talk about feelings anymore and wanted to set the record straight. She then posed several questions.
She asked Principal Cruickshank if any teacher had turned in their paper of resignation, like the rumors on the street?
“No ma'am,” Cruickshank replied.
She then asked if the staff has expressed a desire to continue to work with you and the board to get past these stumbling blocks?
“They are praying for that … yes,” Cruickshank said.
LoCicero then asked Amanda Eldridge, a representative of school financial services, “In your audit of our books and change over from our former service provider have you uncovered any opportunities where staff of Destin High School stole money from the high school?”
Eldridge replied, “Based off the records we have seen, no.”
She asked Eldridge, “Have you unearthed anything during this process that head of school has stolen any money? Have you uncovered any information that the treasurer of our board has stolen any money?”
The answer was the same from Eldridge: “Based off the records we have seen, no.”
She was asked if the treasurer writes checks on the Destin High School checking account or has any other board member done anything to lead you to believe that they have stolen money?
The answer was no.
“In your experience working with other charter schools ... is what we’re experiencing a normal stepping stone … is this normal?” LoCicero asked.
“It’s normal in a seasoned school to have budgetary issues for a charter school,” Eldrege said.
LoCicero asked if there have been any directives given or indicated to cut salaries of current teachers.
“Absolutely not,” Cruickshank and Eldridge both said.
LoCicero asked how Destin High compares when it comes to compensating teachers. “Are we average, above average, where are we?”
Eldridge said as far as salaries go, Destin High is above average, and the benefit plans are very generous.
LoCicero said they adequately compensated the teachers because they wanted to attract the “best and the brightest.”
LoCicero said they have had big donors and people step up wanting to help in recent days.
“While there is bad, we have to go through the tough times to get to the good times,” LoCicero said.
“We brought the education to our community, now it's time for us all to work together and make it successful for decades to come,” LoCicero said, as she was greeted with applause.
After no more discussion, Palmer's motion was called to a vote and passed.
The next scheduled meeting of the governing board of Destin High is May 23 at 6 p.m. at the school