Okaloosa County Schools received another A+ rating from the Florida Department of Education (DOE). The Okaloosa County School District announced the accomplishment via an email from the Superintendent of Schools, Marcus Chambers July 7th.
The email from Chambers said, “Okaloosa joins St. Johns and Sarasota as the only three counties in the state to earn an A rating every year since the baseline year for the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) in 2014-2015. That’s something of which we can all be very proud!”
The Florida DOE grades students on a scale of 1-5 on the FSA. Scores of 3 and above (listed as ‘satisfactory’) are considered good enough to not need “substantial support” in the next grade level.
The DOE then collated those numbers into a percent of the total possible points earned category. Okaloosa County School District scored a 62% for all of the schools in the district, and a 61% and lower would have made the Okaloosa County School District a B school district.
Several candidates had something to say about the ratings after the state department of education released them to the public on Thursday.
Incumbent up for re-election in District 1, (all voters vote for all school board seats in Okaloosa County), Dr. Lamar White said, “Okaloosa has been rated an A school district every year since 2014. Our school grades have also been released, and we know that, while there is cause for celebration, there is work to do. We are thankful to our students, parents, teachers, and other employees who worked hard during a very challenging year.” Dr. White added, “We are working hard to overcome the loss of instructional time associated with COVID-19.”
Challenger for school board District 5, Cara Marion, told her followers via Facebook (you can read the whole statement here) that “Okaloosa County’s stats show a continued downward trend in 10 of the 11 graded areas (only “improvement” was in graduation rate). Our gifted and ESE learners are suffering the most, as the stats reveal. And our Math Achievement was our worst area, seeing a decline of 10 points. Science Achievement wasn’t good as it declined 7 points!” Marion added that voters should “Look at the underlying trends and don’t bite off on fluffy, sunshine headlines and sound bites given all the time by the current school board, but especially during this school board election season!”
A | 62% or greater
B | 54% – 61%
C | 41% – 53%
D | 32% – 40%
F | <31%
The short answer is that, for the most part, Niceville outperformed Okaloosa County Schools in general. Nearly half of the schools in the district saw enough of a dip in performance to lose a letter grade on their report card – only three of the twelve schools Niceville-area students can attend dropped.
The best performing schools in the Niceville Area; Liza Jackson Preparatory School, STEMM Academy, Northwest Florida Ballet Academie, and Collegiate High School, are invite-only charter schools that operate outside of, but not necessarily separate from, the Okaloosa County School District. Students from around the county can participate in those four schools.
There are three area public high schools students in the Niceville area may attend that are graded by the Florida Department of Education. They are Collegiate High School (a charter school affiliated with Northwest Florida State College), Niceville High School and Destin High School – a charter school in Destin.
Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College had the best marks among the three high schools available to Niceville-area students. The school earned 86% of the total points available, an A rating, and superior marks on individual testing sections of the FSA. 99% of students in the program graduated – and every student was deemed college or career ready by the state’s testing board.
Destin High School is a charter school (located in Destin) that opened for the first time in the 2021-2022 school year after receiving approval from the Okaloosa County School District and the state DOE. In its first year of educating students, the school earned a B grade – two points above a C grade. Students scored right at the A level for math and science, with a 63%. They performed better on social studies with 69%. But it was their english and language arts (ELA) scores that brought down their overall score. 57% of students scored a three or above on their FSA ELA test. It was the English Language Arts gains of the lowest 25% – on which they received a score of just 35 that ultimately brought the school to a B – and almost to a C. The school received a 35% in that category.
Niceville High School also received an A for the school year. It’s the 13th year the school has received an A from the district. 99% of eligible students graduated from NHS this school year, and the school also saw good test results on its FSA examinations.
The middle and elementary schools can be a little trickier to understand because several county schools have elementary and middle school students. These schools are the Lewis School (which formed at the beginning of the millennium when the district merged Valparaiso Elementary and Lewis Middle School together), Liza Jackson Preparatory School (which serves students 3rd-8th grade), Ruckel Middle School, the STEMM Academy and Northwest Florida Ballet Académie (which also serves students 3rd-8th grade)
The Lewis School just barely missed the cutoff for an A rating – receiving a 60% overall. The school is different from all the other middle schools on this list in that it serves a specific geographic location in Okaloosa County and educates children from 1st-8th grades. The school dropped from an A rating last year, and it’s the first time Lewis has not received an A rating since 2000, when the school received a C. The school has a new principal for the upcoming school year, Lindsey Smith. Principal Smith comes to Lewis from Fort Walton Beach High School, where she was an assistant principal.
Smith’s old school, Fort Walton Beach High School, was one of three schools that received an “I” rating for incomplete. The Superintendent said in his note that the district staff is working on rectifying the grading situation with the state in order to determine their final score.
The Liza Jackson School, located in Fort Walton Beach, likely has fewer children from Niceville and Valparaiso or Eglin Air Force Base. Kids from the Mid Bay area can still go to Liza Jackson if they are in grades 3-8 and their parents are willing to drive them to school every day. No school-provided bus transport exists between the Mid Bay area and the school’s campus on the northwestern side of Fort Walton Beach.
Liza Jackson school did very well on the FSA exams – they scored at or above an 83% on all of their tests. The learning gains of the bottom 25% category brought the school’s scores down slightly but did not risk the school’s chances of receiving an A grade.
The Northwest Florida Ballet Academie serves kiddos 3rd-8th grade and has a strong record of academic excellence, which it met this year. The school has received an A every year since its opening in 2003.
The Okaloosa STEMM academy had the highest overall score of any school in Okaloosa County, with a score of 92%. These kids excelled in every aspected of the FSA testing as well. Their poorest collected performance was on the science FSA – where 94% of children achieved a satisfactory grade or better.
C.W. Ruckel Middle School serves the children of Niceville (with the exception of the southern slice of the Hattie’s Grove Peninsula south of Valparaiso Avenue in Niceville) and shares a roughly triangular slice of land between Partin Drive, State Route 20 and Palm Boulevard with Niceville High School. It’s not all the two schools share. Both earned 68% of available points on their state testing and were rated A schools.
Bluewater Elementary School was tied for the highest-performing elementary school and the highest-performing school that specifically services a geographic region in Okaloosa County. As you might’ve guessed, the school serves almost all of Bluewater Bay, except for a small sliver on the northwest portion of the Bluewater Bay peninsula, near Rocky Bayou. Bluewater Elementary School has not received below an A grade since 2001.
Edge elementary missed an A rating from the Florida Department of Education by a single point. It was one of two Okaloosa County Schools in the Niceville-Valparaiso area to drop a letter grade in 2022.
Eglin Elementary School, which serves only children whose parents live or work on Eglin Air Force Base, scored highly as well. The school is located on Air Force Base property and serves students K-4, and fifth graders who live on base attend the Lewis School for fifth grade. Eglin Elementary recieved an A grade for the 2021-2022 school year.
Plew received an A grade for the 2021-2022 school year. The school has received an A grade every year since 2013. 79% of students achieved a three or higher on their FSA ELA tests and 75% scored at grade level for their science and math FSA tests.
The short answer is that if you live on Eglin Air Force Base, in Valparaiso, Niceville or Bluewater Bay – probably.
All of the schools in the area are consistently rated A schools – some closer to the B mark than others.
Additionally, there are plenty of other options for students to learn, including the Ballet Academié, Liza Jackson, and STEMM.
In order to check out where your child is zoned for the upcoming school year in Okaloosa County – check out this map.