After three years as principal of Emerald Coast Middle School, Charlie Marello is heading west to take the place of Diane Kelley at Destin Middle School.

When both ECMS and DMS students return from winter break, they will be greeted by new principals.

"It may not be the norm to start at a school in the middle of the year," Marello explained. "But when the right opportunity comes along, you just have to go for it," he said.

Marello's career in education has spanned 15 years in the Walton County School District, starting as a teacher and coach and then becoming a teacher on assignment, before being promoted to assistant principal, and then, of course, principal.

Along the way, he's learned the challenges and rewards that principals experience.

"The toughest challenge is probably balancing schedules and time management," he explained. "There are lots of things happening all the time that require the principal's attention and/or involvement. The most rewarding moments center around students. Seeing students achieve and be successful and evolve into the best version of themselves is very rewarding."

Marello said he is proud of the positive environment created at ECMS in the past few years.

"We created a climate that is extremely positive and collaborative and is conducive to high levels of student engagement and achievement," he said. "This positive climate also dramatically increased parental involvement through the formation of our PACT (Parent Advisory Council Team) while improving teacher morale."

But the positive atmosphere of the school was not created by one person. Marello gives much credit to faculty and staff at ECMS.

"This doesn't happen by accident, it was done by design with all of the stakeholders in mind," he said. "I will dearly miss the faculty and staff at ECMS. They are an incredible group of people and deserve to be celebrated often for what they do."

ECMS and DMS have much in common despite different counties. Both serve students in 5th to 8th grade and have enrollments of around 700 students.

"Both schools have very similar demographic statistics and each is incredibly talented and dedicated faculty and staff members," Marello said.

At DMS, Marello said he is looking forward to learning about their academic and extracurricular programs already in place.

"DMS has a deep-rooted, well established tradition of excellence," he said. "Following in the footsteps of Dr. Diane Kelley is a daunting task. She is an innovator and forward thinker and will hopefully only be a phone call away when I need to send out an S.O.S."