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Under Cloud of Controversy, STEMM Principal to Lead Education Efforts at Okaloosa DJJ Facility

In Brief:

  • The Okaloosa County School Board approved the transfer of Dr. Scheree Martin from Okaloosa STEMM Academy to a leadership position at the Department of Juvenile Justice facility, sparking significant parental protest.
  • Parents criticized Martin’s handling of children with autism at STEMM Academy, voicing concerns about her suitability for a role with a more vulnerable student population.
  • Superintendent Marcus Chambers and School Board Member Dr. Lamar White defended the decision, highlighting legal precedents and the board’s commitment to handling misconduct appropriately.

With applause, families present, and photos taken, The Okaloosa County School Board transferred two educators to assistant principalships at Fort Walton Beach High School.

A third transfer—from Principal Dr. Scheree Martin from Okaloosa STEMM Academy to a post at the Department of Juvenile Justice facility south of Crestview—created tension, public comment, and parental ire.

Dr. Martin, the principal subject of our story concerning accusations of the mistreatment of children with autism at the Blue Ribbon Participant School, received a unanimous vote from the Okaloosa School Board on a recommendation from Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers to serve in a leadership position at the DJJ facility.

While Martin would get the unanimous approval of the school board, except Board Member Tim Bryant – who was not at the meeting, she received unanimous poor reviews from parents who attended the meeting to protest her continued employment with OCSD.

Four members of the Newcomer Family, whose oldest son Asher spent some time at the school, arrived at the podium one after the other to protest her continued employment and transfer to an educational environment with children they say are more vulnerable to abusive situations than children at STEMM.

Michael Newcomer reminded the board this was the fourth time in the last three years he had asked the board to either fire Martin or refuse to renew her contract. He cited her penalization by the state board of education and multiple disciplinary actions from the Okaloosa School District administration as cause to end her employment.  

Christine Newcomer said her family’s experience was far from the worst horror story to come out of Martin’s leadership at the STEMM academy, according to other parents in similar situations. “When we choose to punish kids for a disability, we are losing sight of what is important,” she said as she addressed the school board during the public comment section, “Now we are looking to move this principal to a much more vulnerable population, whose parents are less involved, are less outspoken, and probably do not have the means to advocate for their students at the Department of Juvenile Justice. We can do better and should do better.”

Another parent of a child with autism, Nicholas Polaire, added that he believed Martin had enough chances and should not continue to lead schools in Okaloosa County. “I firmly believe you get so many chances, and then you have to be removed,” Polaire said, “You have a responsibility here, and your names are tied to this. Your names are going to be tied to this decision. We all came here to protect children. You didn’t come here to ruin children’s lives; you probably have children yourselves.”

Okaloosa School Leadership’s Response to Parents Concerns at STEMM

The Okaloosa County School Board voted unanimously to approve the list of transfers, which included Martin’s transfer to the DJJ Facility, but Superintendent Chambers and School Board Member Dr. Lamar White addressed the concerns of the parents assembled at the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Chambers, who earlier this month secured another four-year term as the elected head of the Okaloosa County School District, told the parents, “It can be a matter of debate for some. I believe we have the absolute best teachers, staff and administrators anywhere in the State of Florida. And there’s going to be times when folks, they don’t act in accordance with our policies and they don’t act in accordance with what we believe. And we take action. Sometimes, that action is not agreed upon by others.”

For his part, White told the audience he believed it was not his place to reject the personnel recommendations given by Chambers to the board for approval because of case law. He cited McCallister v. Bay County School Board, which asserts the school superintendent’s ability to make personnel decisions without interference from the school board unless the board has what White called just or good cause. “In my layman’s mind, after what I heard this evening, I was trying to determine if [Martin’s case] would rise to [the level of just cause]. I think the record [of a unanimous vote of approval from the school board on the transfers of teachers] speaks for itsself that this school board approved the recommendation of this superintendent.

Martin’s Response

Mid Bay News has contacted Dr. Martin via her district email to request an interview with her concerning this matter. Should she respond, we will update the story.

More on the Okaloosa Regional Detention Facility

The Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center is a secure, 35-bed facility to house youth who are awaiting court decisions or placement in a commitment facility.

According to it’s website, the facility offers a safe and humane environment with comprehensive services, including education, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and general health care.

These services are provided through contracted medical and mental health professionals and educational programs funded by the Department of Education via local school districts.

Youth at the center follow a structured daily schedule that includes hygiene routines, meals, schooling, physical and educational activities, and court appearances.

The average stay for a youth in the facility is about 12 days. 


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