Destin High School Expands with New Additions and Educational Offerings

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By Will Estell

If you’ve been a resident of Destin or the nearby coastal communities of Miramar Beach, Fort Walton Beach or Niceville for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a great deal about Destin High School, and the immense dedication and work of those involved in making the much-needed home of education a part of Destin’s growing list of improvements for the families who call America’s Luckiest Fishing Village home.

Destin High School Ribbon CuttingWith a brand new, three-story multi-use building, state-of-the-art classrooms and the remarkable Tripp Tolbert Up To It Weight Room and Training Facility, the recent, and coming, additions to the ever-growing Destin High School campus are definitely impressive. Currently, the school encompasses 20 classrooms, consisting of over 20,000 sq. ft. of learning space on the beautiful new campus located just off Destin’s Commons Drive.

However, with the addition of a new building, Destin High will be adding 23 classrooms, and over 25,000 sq. ft., including a spacious science lab; thus, bringing the new total size of the school to more than 45,000 sq. ft. of educational space.

Destin High School is a tuition-free, public charter school, which gained its state charter and became a part of the thriving Destin community for the 2021-2022 school year. The high school is funded through the support and donations of generous businesses, organizations and members of the surrounding Northwest Florida Gulf Coast community, in conjunction with the events and fundraising efforts of its board members, educators, parents and students.

Destin High School currently offers a complete comprehensive experience including all of the expected core curriculum areas, along with instruction in the fine arts, business disciplines, foreign languages, physical education and fishing. Additionally, the school is looking at partnerships to expand their career and technical offerings, starting in Fall of 2024.

Destin High School Ribbon CuttingAs a somewhat unique example of Destin High School’s feel for educating outside the box, its fishing education program offers students the opportunity to learn about the charter and commercial fishing business, and even provides a path by which its students can earn their captain’s license while still in high school! How’s that for educating our students in something that actually makes a remarkable difference for our community’s future too?

As part of its growth, Destin High School recently celebrated a ribbon-cutting celebration on January 25. It included a Town Hall event where interested parties and parents could learn more about all the new school additions—and what Destin High School as a whole has to offer both students and our Destin community. The event was widely attended and, I believe, went a long way in painting an accurate picture of what the founding board members, community stakeholders and parents have been working tirelessly to achieve for years. The school and its new additions will serve our wonderful city and families for decades upon decades to come.

Destin High School Ribbon CuttingHeidi LoCicero, President of the Governing Board of Directors and Founding Board Member of Destin High School, told me, “Once students take a tour of the remarkable campus, they are hooked on attending Destin High. Pun intended!” Heidi went on to say, “The footprint in Destin continues to grow, our students’ impact is impressive and our legacy is firmly rooted in the community’s foundation. The Destin community has truly embraced local education and provided the funds to support our students’ success. Our teachers are dedicated to their students’ success. Destin High has built-in academic support programs to help with students’ rigorous course loads. All of our teachers are focused on helping students build confidence in their areas of study and reduce anxiety, as they learn new subjects. Students reap the benefits of small classes with individual attention and their grades show it.”

I asked Heidi why she and others involved feel the new building is so important to Destin High School’s future success, and she explained, “The new building allows appropriate space for the school to continue to grow and thrive. Space constraints in the existing footprint, and an upward trajectory in student enrollment, caused us to have to adopt a split schedule in the fall to accommodate all students. The additional square footage effectively doubles our classroom space and allows us to continue adding enrollment and unique programs while combining our student body back into a common schedule. For example, with additional space, our fishing program was able to expand into two classrooms, and now has a proper lab space to allow students to partake in fishing labs. Additionally, our new band program will no longer have to share space with our drama program. We’ve also added appropriate state-of-the-art science labs which are instrumental in preparing students for college and career trajectories.”

I asked Mr. Donald “Willy” Williams, Jr., Executive Director of Destin High School, what he is most proud of about the new school: “As the executive director, I am most proud of the vibrant and flexible culture of the school. Students are happy to be at Destin High School, and teachers are happy to be part of an amazing team. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done—especially when considering all of the construction, moving and split schedules. But, I haven’t once had anyone say ‘We can’t do that.’ Everyone, from the students and teachers to our governing board and stakeholders has a can-do attitude. I’m proud to be part of a high-will team! It has been amazing to walk into a place where education is valued, excellence is expected and community support is 1000%! I am a huge fan of ‘Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare,’” he continued. “The story of Destin High School reminds me that slow and steady wins the race. There are a million competing priorities in every school. And when we try to focus on all of them, we can focus on nothing. It may take us awhile to address everything coming at us each day. But, I see a willingness and understanding in all stakeholders that slow and steady will really win this race!”

As is often the case with any new school, people want to know how they can be a part of the solution and future growth. “Destin High School needs volunteers to assist,” said Heidi. “All kinds of research indicates [that] the presence of multiple adults in a student and young adult’s life significantly enhances their chances of success in life,” she said. “We, as a school, need tutors. We need adults who are willing to come in and be a part of our lunchtime mentoring, monitoring and serving. We need people who are willing to help us get clubs going; we need volunteer coaches; we need support at games and competitions. We need everyone in this community to rally around the school, our students, and to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of our community who have made DHS a true success story.”

Well spoken, I would say, as I could immediately tell Heidi lives, breathes and speaks, “Go Sharks!” The process for getting involved is simple she says. “Just email a letter of interest and your skill set details to info@DestinHighSchool.org and a pass the Okaloosa County School District background check. For those wanting to give a gift of any amount to the school, Destin High School has legacy gift opportunities, and even building naming rights available.”

The open enrollment period for the next school year began in January available at: https://destinhighschool.org/admissions/.

In addition, campus tours may be requested online at destinhighschool.org/campus.

Will Estell is a writer, media entrepreneur and real estate professional with over 600 published magazine features in an array of publications from tourism, real estate and automobile editorials to celebrity interview magazine cover features. He is the chief creative officer of Estell Hussey Media, LLC, and over the past 26 years has been instrumental in co-founding 12 new magazine titles as well as serving as editor in chief for numerous others. Originally from the backwoods of rural Mississippi, Will is a father of three who splits his time between Destin and Navarre, along with his wife, WEAR ABC 3 Pensacola news anchor, Laura Hussey. Will is a regular contributor to Life Media’s family of publications.