Near the end of our time together – The Lewis School’s newest principal, Dr. Nathaniel Chatman’s name, came over with the walkie-talkie strapped to his hip.
Another school employee needed assistance with a special needs child who had been acting out over the last couple of days – and was in the middle of another flare-up.
After letting the team know he was on his way, he walked calmly but determinedly to the hall where the student had ended up. I followed behind, wondering what would happen next – nervous about what I might see.
We arrived at the bathroom where the student was. Two employees had already made it to the area and were talking with the student, who had calmed down somewhat.
The other school employee said he had the situation under control – and Principal Chatman smiled, said, discussed what was going on with the employees – told them again he was there to help if they needed him – and continued our tour.
Chatman’s calm demeanor during the incident has roots in his wealth of experience working with general education and special needs students throughout his career – and the teachers who educate them. The last stop for the Laurel Hill-born educator was the Richbourg School – the educational center for students with special needs in Crestview. He has also served at Shoal River Middle School, Ruckel Middle School, and schools in Leon County and Madison County, east of Tallahassee.
Lewis serves a similar function to Richbourg and Silver Sands School, but in the middle area of the district. It also educates students in the general population as well.
The Florida State and West Florida alum has a calm demeanor, clear acrylic glasses, and a checked shirt, which give him a fatherly vibe you notice when you enter his office.
“I’m excited to be around the students here at The Lewis School and to be a part of their educational journey, to be able to provide support to these students,” He noted.
Dr. Chatman replaced Dr. Lindsey Smith, who served as the school’s principal for two years. She returned to Fort Walton Beach High School to become the Vikings’ principal.
Dr. Chatman intended to become something other than a teacher when he moved to Tallahassee to attend Florida State. But, he decided he’d found his calling once he started working with children from what he called “Lower Socioeconomic Backgrounds” in the city. “Through working with that program, [I] just began to develop a love for working with kids and being supportive. I started substitute teaching and then decided to change my major over to education, and have loved it ever since,” Chatman said.
The Lewis School has seen some grading setbacks over the last couple of years since the COVID-19 pandemic. The school had received A ratings from the Florida Department of Education every year since 2001, but the post-pandemic grades in 2022 and 2023 were both B ratings.
Chatman says his goal is to restore the school’s A rating by using the data from the last two years to make improvements and empower the teachers to attain the highest level of performance.
“Lewis is one point away from that A,” Chatman said, “considering this population of students, we are going to invest in our teachers with needed support so that they can come in and work on those skills.”
He says his teachers have already visited other schools to see what they are doing and what might translate to Lewis. “That’s one of the great things about Okaloosa County,” Chatman added, “we’re not a county where one school tries to keep all of the information [about how to help students succeed] to themselves. When we see a group of teachers at another school doing a great job, we send teachers there so they can learn those strategies and come back and teach it here.”