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ESE Teacher Leaders had the opportunity to attend the FL DOE's Special Education Summer Institute in Orlando this week.  This training provides supports & builds capacity with the implementation of the new B.E.S.T. Aligned Standards for Students with Disabilities to include instruction in the new B.E.S.T. Aligned Access Points.  WCSD was well-represented by ESE Staffing Specialist Julie Smith, ESE Instructional Coach Melissa Susenbach and SWHS-MIC ESE Teacher Monica Brady.  

EPIC Day is the creation of Superintendent A. Russell Hughes as a way of starting off a new school year.  Characterized by high energy, motivation, celebration, and professional development.  2022-23 EPIC Day exceeded all expectations.  Superintendent Hughes opened the meeting with a message of celebration for the success of the 21-22 school year which led to #3 ranking in the State.  His message was followed with an inspirational message from keynote speaker, Kim Bearden, the cofounder of The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, GA.  Following content and choice breakout sessions led by teachers for teachers, the day ended with messages from guest speakers; Sarah Painter, Florida Teacher of the Year, and WCSD Teacher of the Year, Lance Climber.  Superintendent Hughes closed the meeting with one last thank you and energy boost to “Get On/Go On” to all of the WCSD to take forward into what is sure to be an EPIC 2022-23 School Year. 

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office will host their annual Back Pack Splash on July 30, 2022 at the DeFuniak Springs Wee Care Park.  The event begins at 11a.m. and back packs will be given away first come, first serve as long as they last! 

Enjoy a day in the park with free food, drinks and activities for the kids while getting them prepared to begin the new school year!

The Walton County School District begins the 2022-23 School Year with a positive energy at Manufacturing Day.  Superintendent Hughes implemented this day with a vision of bringing everyone together with all the resources available in one room.  Each school brought their School Improvement Teams, which included administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students.  After kicking the meeting off with the release of data and a positive and energetic message, school teams began working from that vision to develop their visions and the plans to achieve them.  Superintendent Hughes took a few minutes to take a picture with students that wanted an opportunity to take the photo with him.  Thank you to Hadley Buckner, Juliette Roberts, Gareth Briggs, and Meg Wallace for taking time to come to this event.  This day is the start to another EPIC year in the Walton County School District. 

Destiny Worship desired to make an impact on the lives of students in some way.  Members chose to make beginning of the year school supply packs for children.  Ms. Sherry Whitlock and Ms. Nicole Thompson delivered 126 individual school packs to be shared with our elementary and middle schools.  Destiny Worship provides this community service in four counties at 6 different locations.   Thank you, Destiny Worship for your generosity and partnership! 

School leadership teams participated in our Solution Tree PLC at Work training during the week of July 11th. The PLC at Work professional development is designed to prepare district, school, and teacher leaders to build  professional learning communities that provide life-changing learning for all students. We look forward to implementing the strategies learned through PLC's inside our classrooms this school year.

WCSD educators, administrators, and Superintendent Hughes spent an EPIC week at the AVID Summer Institute in Orlando, Florida this Summer! Teachers, student leaders and administrators from across the nation came together for collaborative training sessions, team building, and brainstorming innovative new ideas for engaging students in academics! We are Advancing Via Individual Determination!

District Grade Remains an “A”

Walton County School District Remains an “A” – Improves Grade Ranking 

July 11, 2022

The Florida Department of Education released the 2021-2022 data that calculates school grades, district grades, and school improvement ratings.  Florida has issued school grades to its schools since 1999.  School grades are calculated based on proficiency and learning gains in core subject areas, such as reading and math, as well as additional components, including graduation rate and college and career acceleration.

Walton County, as a district, once again scored an “A” rating, which it has now been since 2018. This is the first time since grading began that this has occurred in four (4) consecutive grading periods. According to the state’s data release, Walton ranks #3 of 67 districts in district school grade calculation. The district improved by two (2) rankings from the 2020-2021 school year.

Superintendent A. Russell Hughes was elated upon hearing about the results and improvements in the district grades.  He stated, “After receiving assessment scores just one week ago, I am in awe once again by the work of our schools’ performances that in turn brought about this A+ designation. The work we have done has been intentional, supported by our School Board and implemented in leadership throughout. Every component within the Walton County School District family – administrators who led with fervor, teachers who taught with fidelity, students who responded with tenacity, and community members who supported with compassion – helped bring about these unprecedented, astonishing results. I am just so proud to work alongside these EPIC people. How wonderful it is to present our community with world-class results, right here in Walton County.”  For the first time ever since grading began, all Walton County schools are graded “A” or “B”.  Superintendent Hughes continued, “This proves that your Walton County School District was whole-heartedly invested in moving ‘4wRd’ regardless of the challenges faced, to include an unforeseen international pandemic!”

Most notable of improvements were Maude Saunders Elementary and Paxton School. Last year, Maude Saunders Elementary was a “C” school. This year, they earned the grade of “B”. This is a huge accomplishment for the school, which had scored a “D” during the last decade. Maude Saunders Principal of three years, Mrs. Cindy Neale responded to the results with a quote from Vince Lombardi, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual”, then continued on to say, “Goals are achieved by having a positive mindset, creating a climate and culture built on respect, trust, high expectations, goal setting, intentional planning with the belief we can achieve our goals TOGETHER.” Paxton School also increased a letter grade from a “B” to an “A”. When Principal Brent Jones heard the news, he said, “I am so proud of all the faculty, staff, students, and parents for all of their hard work. I am so grateful to be a part of the Paxton Family!” Additional schools maintained their school grade, but increased their points, such as Freeport High School, which moved from 663 to 718 points, remaining an “A” - one of the highest public-school numeric results in the state of Florida.

The following are 2021-2022 school grade results for Walton County. Eight (8) schools were designated as an “A”:  Mossy Head School, West DeFuniak Elementary, Dune Lakes Elementary, Van R. Butler Elementary, Emerald Coast Middle, Freeport High, South Walton High, and Paxton School.  Five (5) schools are designated as a “B”:  Freeport Elementary, Maude Saunders Elementary, Freeport Middle, Walton Middle, and Walton High School. Walton Initiative for Success in Education (WISE) received a school rating of “Maintaining”. 

Accolades such as this could not be achieved without the strategic and intentional work done by our administrators, teachers, staff, and students.

It is exciting and worth celebrating to know that Walton County School District is becoming recognizable across the state and nation. As always, we will continue to strive towards being the number one school district in the state of Florida – we are well on our way!


Congratulations to all!


For more information on the Walton County School District, please visit  The reports and guides to school grade calculations can be found at

Walton County School District

Increases Student Achievement As Measured By State Testing,

Now Ranks 3rd in the State 

June 30, 2022

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Education released results from all state testing for the   2021-2022 school year. These results are based on Florida Standards Assessments (FSA), Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests (FCAT), and End of Course exams (EOC). FSA tests are the subjects of English/Language Arts (grades 3-10) and Math (grades 3-8). FCAT tests are the subjects of Science (grade 5 and 8), and EOC tests are in the subjects of Algebra I, Geometry, Biology, Civics, and US History.

During the 2020-2021 school year, Walton County ranked 6th of 67 Florida counties in overall proficiency levels on state tests. With test results released today, Walton County now ranks 3rd of 67 counties in overall proficiency levels for the 2021-2022 school year. The only two counties scoring higher than Walton are St. Johns and Nassau, which are located on the east coast of Florida. 

In an unprecedented year, Walton scored in the top 10 in 20 of the 21 tested items.  The results are as follows:

  • 10th in 3rd and 6th grade ELA
  • 9th in Civics and 7th and 8th grade ELA
  • 8th in 8th grade Science
  • 7th in 3rd grade Math and 5th grade Science
  • 6th in 5th grade ELA and 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th grade Math
  • 5th in 4th and 9th grade ELA
  • 3rd in Geometry, US History, and 10th grade ELA
  • 2nd in Algebra I and Biology

The one component below the top 10 in ranking was 7th grade Math, however in that specific area, Walton showed the greatest improvement from a 24th ranking in 2020-2021 to a 14th ranking in   2021-2022.

Walton County Schools scored above the state average in all areas of testing. The state average in ELA is 52% proficient; Walton is 60%, 8% higher. The state average in Math is 55%, with Algebra I and Geometry at 49%. Walton is at 64% proficient in Math, 9% higher; 73% in Algebra I, 24% higher; and 69% in Geometry, 20% higher. The state average in 5th and 8th grade Science is 48%; Walton is 58% (10% higher) in 5th grade and 57% (9% higher) in 8th grade. In Biology, the state average is 61%; Walton is 78%, 17% higher. In Civics, the state average is 69%; Walton is 76%, 7% higher. In US History, the state average is 65%; Walton is 78%, 13% higher.

Superintendent A. Russell Hughes was left speechless by the test results. With his voice full of emotion, he finally states, “We have a vision to be #1 – to be the best school district in the state of Florida, and I’m sure some thought we were crazy or would never get to that goal. But every year, we continue moving forward. It really is awe inspiring! I am amazed over and over again by our faculty and staff and their love of students and the value they have for education.” Superintendent Hughes continued, “But, in that same voice, let me also say this – results don’t just happen by chance! In Walton County, we are intentional, we are purposeful, and we never give up – not on students, not on ourselves, and not on our goals – no matter the circumstances. We are EPIC, and we are moving 4wRd; I am overjoyed!”

Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Hawthorne echoed the Superintendent’s sentiments and provided additional data. “When the Superintendent shared his vision in 2016, #1 sounded daunting.  But everyone went to work – moving our students from 8th to 6th and now 3rd!  It truly is what vision is all about. Everyone in Walton County is behind the Superintendent’s vision, and as you can see, the vision is becoming reality for our students – the most important part of our work.” 

Over the course of the next few days, the Walton County School District will enter state test scores into their district data system, FOCUS. Once that is complete, parents will be able to see student scores by logging into their child’s FOCUS account. Schools will be receiving the scores as well, as well as school grades in the coming months. 

For more information on the Walton County School District, please visit