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Okaloosa County Students Are Ready to Excel

School district prepares students to succeed in today's (and tomorrow's) workforce.

By Teree Caruthers on December 30, 2022

Students excel at Okaloosa STEMM Academy in Florida.
Okaloosa STEMM Academy

A highly skilled workforce is a cornerstone of the Okaloosa County’s economic growth and success, and at the heart of workforce development efforts is the Okaloosa County School District.

Serving more than 27,000 students from diverse backgrounds, including military families and foreign exchange students, the school district offers an impressive menu of learning opportunities that help develop students into well-rounded young adults as they transition successfully into the workforce.

Career and technical education (CTE) programs, for example, train students for careers in such in-demand fields as health science, information technology, manufacturing and logistics.

“The Okaloosa County School District plays a huge part in workforce development because we work with industry to determine their needs.”

April Branscome, career & technical education program director, OCSD

“Our career and technical education (CTE) programs are a vital link between education, business and industry,” says April Branscome, career & technical education program director for the Okaloosa County School District. “Through our programs, we work with industry partners and local businesses to determine their needs in order to ensure we are teaching the skills they need to build and advance our local and regional workforce.”

“With the training we provide our students, we meet these demands so our students are qualified skilled workers, equipped to seek gainful employment in our local communities.”

Branscome says career readiness begins as early as elementary school with Kids’ CODE, a hands-on, after-school program that teaches students how to build and code robots.

“Our goal is to introduce CTE programs earlier in their education so they will continue on their CTE path,” she says. “We also incorporate unique opportunities for our students to participate in in-demand programs, such as our Advanced Manufacturing Academy and our Practical Nursing Academy.”

Ready to Work in Okaloosa County

Branscome says most of the district’s CTE programs offer students an opportunity to earn an industry certification or state license that will allow them to enter the workforce right out of high school. For example, the Emergency Medical Responder program allows students to earn their EMR and EKG certifications.

Partnerships with local colleges and universities also enable students to simultaneously earn college credit while earning a high school diploma and certification. Students enrolled in the Advanced Manufacturing program earn their MSSC Certified Production Technician certification as well as 15 college credits toward an associate degree in engineering technology.

“To bring industry to our region, we have to have a trained, skilled workforce,” Branscome says. “CTE provides students with the opportunity to develop a strong academic foundation and valuable, real-world skills at no cost to them. We are preparing students for their future in rewarding, high skill, high wage career fields.”

“We inspire students to be curious, to be creative thinkers, to be problem solvers. We really work to tap into their interests, their skill level, and then teach the whole student.”

Scheree Martin, Okaloosa STEMM Academy principal

A Stemm-ulating Education

Diversity in educational options is one of the many factors that earn the Okaloosa County School District an A rating by the Florida Department of Education.

For example, the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medical (STEMM) Academy emphasizes a rigorous academic curriculum and experiential learning – one reason the middle school has been ranked the top middle school in the state.

“What we’re doing here is accelerated learning, but it’s also student-centered and student-driven,” says Scheree Martin, Okaloosa STEMM Academy principal. “I tell every one of our students that they are here because they are leaders, and we spend the three years they are with us developing those leadership skills.”

“We offer liberal arts electives, such as speech and debate and creative writing, and there is a lot of collaborative effort because we want our students to learn to collaborate and work together in the workforce.”

Martin says the school plays a role in the region’s workforce development by introducing students early to local STEMM-related career paths.

“We determine our course offerings based on what the industry is calling for at the time. For example, we’ve transitioned our web design academic track into a cybersecurity track because that is where the demand is,” Martin says.

“One of our top priorities is to connect students with professionals in the business community. We bring in guest speakers; we have experts in the field leading some of our clubs and extracurricular activities. Our goal is to expose students to as many opportunities as possible.”

Meet the Superintendent

High-quality public schools play an essential role in Okaloosa County’s workforce and economic development efforts. Livability spoke with Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Marcus Chambers about the advantages the district provides to students and their families.

Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Marcus Chambers

Marcus Chambers
Superintendent
Okaloosa County School District

What role does the OCSD play in the region’s workforce development efforts?
What we’ve tried to create at Okaloosa Schools is a pipeline from elementary to the workforce. For example, in our elementary schools, you’ll see kids taking part in Kids’ CODE, where they’re learning the basics of coding and where we can then get them interested in STEM, and career and technical education. When they go into middle school and high school, they’re able to go into our CTE courses in areas such as carpentry, HVAC, welding, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. We want to give students the opportunity that when they graduate high school, they can go to college, the military or straight to the workforce and earn an excellent wage.

The district serves many military families – how has your family’s military background helped shape your view of the county’s educational system?
I grew up in the military; my father spent over 33 years in the military and then another decade as the Fort Walton Beach ROTC instructor. I know what it’s like to go to a new base and be the new kid in school. That’s why it’s important to me that we are a very military-friendly school district. We’re in the process of being designated a Purple Star school district by the Department of Education, which means we offer certain services to military families. I also think it’s important to show our kids what it means to be civic-minded.

How has community support impacted the quality of education in Okaloosa County?
Our community partnerships and our community support are part of what makes this such a great school district. If we have a need, businesses, residents, our school families – they rally around our school in ways that make me extremely proud.

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