April brings the beginning of our Florida State Assessments for Reading and Writing across the district. Teachers have been diligently preparing our students for success on these statewide assessments since the beginning of the school year, giving them the tools they need to excel in all categories. We wish them all the very best of luck, and know they will meet the challenges and expectations ahead.
As part of an initiative to keep our community stakeholders informed of the accomplishments across our district, Superintendent A. Russell Hughes gave the first annual State of the Schools address on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. During this presentation, he recognized the School Board of Walton County, and the many people in the district who have helped facilitate the high level of success accomplished since he took office. He shared his commitment to the children of our district, and stated, “Everything we do is all about the children. It has been, and forever will be, that will never change. That is why we do what we do, our children deserve it!”
Superintendent Hughes shared with the public that Walton County School District is an A+ district for the first time since 2014. We are currently in the top ten in 50% of the 22 categories assessed for school grades and rankings, and have increased from #35 in district grade ranking to #11 since 2015. He stated he laid out a plan with schools, principals and teachers to move full speed ahead to #1 status through school improvement plans, our district strategic plan, manufacturing day, individual school visits and VIEW practices, and support and accountability.
Mr. Hughes said that our goal as a district is that EVERY child in the Walton County schools district graduates, and shared his belief that there is “No acceptable rate of casualties. It is our commitment, it is our responsibility, and we will do whatever it takes to make it happen!” Mr. Hughes implemented a “get it right” plan to examine and ensure the accuracy of all our data, assess student achievement levels and demographics, and determine what was needed to help our students succeed. As a result, our graduation rate has had a significant increase of 10% in just two years!
The Superintendent addressed the growth rate of more than 870 students in the past two years, an increase of 9.9% district wide from May of 2017. We made history this year as we reached an enrollment of over 10,000 students for the first time ever. Mr. Hughes spoke about the need to grow responsibly. Every school in South Walton was over capacity, necessitating the construction of a 10-classroom addition to South Walton High School with state of the art technology, and secure outside classrooms and eating area. He shared that Dune Lakes Elementary will be opening in 2019/2020 for students grades Kindergarten through 5th grade. The 150,000 square foot facility will house 1,000 student stations in a totally secure campus, with energy efficient design and innovative technology.
Walton County School District is also working to be responsible with taxpayer dollars. As part of an initiative by Superintendent Hughes, we have sufficient cash reserves to operate without a tax anticipated note for the 2nd consecutive year. Strategic actions on the part of the Superintendent and food services resulted in a positive fund balance in that department, with $130,000 at the end of the 2017/2018 school year. We are on track to end the current fiscal year with a positive fund balance in food services too. Our technology departments have completed a fiber installation that has increased band width 5-fold without increasing costs, in fact, a collaborative effort with Walton County on this project has saved the taxpayers $2 million.
We are committed to student safety and well-being, to providing high quality education, preparing children for the challenges of life, and making Walton County School District the #1 district in the state of Florida!