Having taught for the Air Force Judge Advocate General School, or JAG, and special needs children at Rocky Bayou Christian School, Joe Quilit has an affinity for teaching, no matter the age or subject. However, his new role as principal at Destin Christian Academy holds a great sense of importance.
"Elementary school is where most of the impact is made in a child's life. At that age, they're so hungry to learn," Quilit said. "My father-in-law is 82 and can remember all of his elementary teachers. It's an enormous amount of pressure."
DCA became a satellite campus for Rocky Bayou Christian School last year and with that new partnership, the school is ready to broaden its reach.
"The big vision is to have other satellites in our draw area — Okaloosa, Walton and South Santa Rosa counties," said Michael Mosley, superintendent of Rocky Bayou.
The academy currently serves kindergarten to fifth grade and will be adding sixth grade to its curriculum next year.
"DCA at one time went to eighth grade," explained Mosley. "It is our goal to build that program back up."
Like Rocky Bayou, DCA offers Christian-based education with a smaller-sized classroom — the school's model is 15 students for every teacher. This enables teachers to pay closer attention to the student's academics.
"It's almost a hybrid version of having a tutor," Quilit said. "The teachers are very committed. They can communicate immediately if a student is having issues and tailor the needs for instruction."
The academy features special services such as talent development, a separate classroom for children who learn differently and pull-outs, where a child leaves his or her normal class for a small period of time. No matter the course of action, children are not stigmatized, Mosley said.
"Kids don't choose to learn differently," Mosley said. "You just have to get everybody eager to learn. That's the golden ticket. It's the hardest work you can do as a teacher."
Another teaching tactic is the use of technology with iPads and, hopefully, Quilit said, Mimio boards.
"The use of technology is not to replace the teacher, but to enhance the teacher," Quilit said.
Parents are also engaged as part of the curriculum and play a major role in their children's education.
"We see our parents twice a day," Quilit said. "It's important for parents to meet with teachers without having to wait a week."
"Our model in Niceville has a very active parent group," Mosley added. "Kids routinely … see their parents and teachers as a team."
And instead of the statewide FCAT, Rocky Bayou and DCA apply nationally based standardized testing. This helps broaden the spectrum of grades. Last test cycle, students at DCA were in the 80 percentile or higher.
"Standardized testing pressure has never been present and parents are thankful," Mosley said. "We're blessed Rocky Bayou founders saw this need 30 years ago."
Beyond the classroom, students become a part of their community through acts of service. Even kindergarteners pitch in.
"It's about making your community a better place and using your abilities to bless others," Mosley said.
Quilit's principal duties won't keep him from his passion, which is teaching.
"I love to deal with personnel issues, so what better group of people to work with than teachers?" he asked. "It's a win-win."
He'll also be wearing the hat of music teacher. Quilit has been playing the guitar for 40 years.
"The kids love the electric guitar," he said. "Even the kindergarten class."
Furthering his own education, Quilit is pursuing his Master's of Education from Liberty University.
Quilit can personally attest to the positive effect that Rocky Bayou's curriculum has on students. He has two daughters enrolled at the school, Keilana, in third grade, and Hannah, a senior.
"Our girls have done so well," Quilit said proudly. "It's really a nice testament to the school."
Although the curriculum is Christian-based Quilit says he wants students to leave with open minds.
"It's not my job to force them, but to mentor them," he said. "We want the students to share their opinions. We want to create leaders in our community."