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Walton County School District Recognized Nationally

Cognia Accreditation Awards for Excellence in Education


Cognia, the global school improvement organization that helps grow learners, teachers, and leaders, has announced its list of Schools of Distinction among Cognia accredited schools and districts. The Schools of Distinction earn this recognition based on the results of Cognia’s rigorous Accreditation Engagement Review process. The 2022 Schools of Distinction are listed on the Cognia website.

During the 2021-2022 school year, Cognia conducted approximately 1,500 school engagement reviews for accreditation. This year, 96 schools and 38 systems in 34 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and nine countries are recognized. The number of institutions reviewed and those that earn this designation vary from year to year. Winners carry the designation for one year.

Five school districts in Florida were among 38 systems that received recognition.  Walton, Okaloosa, Collier, Pasco, and Volusia County School Districts were all among those named.  Upon hearing the news, Superintendent A. Russell Hughes was again honored and humbled to receive yet another award, recognition, or designation that affirms our hard work and dedication in education for our students and families.  “We experienced the Cognia Accreditation process last year, and the organization shared that we were a top tier visit.  We know we are ranked third in the state of Florida with academics, but to know that we are in the top 38 of systems in the world according to this national accreditation organization – that is truly EPIC!”  Superintendent Hughes continued by thanking all stakeholders who were involved during the Cognia visit – students, parents, staff, teachers, administrators, and school board. 

“Congratulations to the 2022 Schools and Systems of Distinction for demonstrating excellence in education in meeting the Cognia Performance Standards,” said Cognia President and CEO Dr. Mark A. Elgart. “Based on the results of their 2021–2022 accreditation reviews, each of these schools and systems demonstrated evidence of growth in learning, a healthy culture for learning, engaging and high-quality instructional environments, and effective leadership for learning.”

Cognia is a global, nonprofit improvement organization dedicated to helping institutions and other education providers grow learners, teachers, and leaders. Cognia offers accreditation and certification, assessment, and professional services within a framework of continuous improvement. Serving 36,000 public and private institutions from early learning through high school in more than 90 countries, Cognia brings a global perspective to advancing teaching and learning. Find out more at

Congratulations again to all stakeholders in the Walton County School District for being a part of the success we are experiencing; you are EPIC, and EPIC remains the way!

God bless you all!!!

A. Russell Hughes

Superintendent of Schools

Early Release Days 9/16 & 9/23

September 12, 2022

Heads Up!!! We have TWO upcoming early release Fridays! This Friday, September 16th is early release for MSE students, due to Walton High School's Homecoming parade and game. Next Friday, September 23rd is early release, due to teacher training. Dismissal for car pick up will begin at 11:40. Please be sure your child's teacher is aware of any changes in transportation on these days.

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

Maude Saunders is proud to announce our 2021-2022 school grade is a B! Our grade proves that students, staff, and families worked together to achieve our 2021-2022 school theme, “Aim for Excellence”.   We look forward to showing our Warrior Pride as we continue our journey by being ONE school, ONE team, with ONE mission…Excellence!

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 10thgrade 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. 

Report cards were given on the last day of school. If your child was absent, please come by the office to pick it up. Summer office hours are as follows: Monday through Wednesday from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm, Thursday from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, and closed on Fridays.

Las boletas de calificaciones se entregaron el último día de clases. Si su hijo estuvo ausente, por favor pase por la oficina para recogerlo. El horario de oficina en verano es el siguiente: de lunes a miércole de 7:00 am a 5:30 pm, jueves de 7:00 am a 5:00 pm y viernes cerrado.