Walton County Superintendent of Schools, A. Russell Hughes, gave an informative, passionate, and inspiring lecture on education in Walton County at the Florida Chautauqua's 2024 Bicentennial Celebration. With this year's theme being "Walton County's Pioneers", it was a fitting opportunity for Superintendent Hughes to highlight how education has changed since the county's founding in 1824.

Superintendent Hughes' lecture began with pictures of the county's oldest school buildings. One of those schools, Bay School, is still in use today. He showed photos of the one-room buildings used to teach children of all ages and chalkboards were the newest innovation in education. Teachers at that time were responsible for every academic area as well as physical education, discipline, and classroom cleanliness.

Today, Walton County is home to some of the most architecturally and educationally innovative campuses in the country with classrooms that have SMART boards, computers for every student, virtual reality, and much more. Students experience differentiated instruction in classrooms containing students their age, with teachers who are experts in their field. The sprawling campuses are supported by teams of staff responsible for keeping the building clean and functional.

The District's current administrative office is located at the Tivoli Complex in DeFuniak Springs, which was in operation as a school from 1912 until 1968 when the Walton County School Board voted to desegregate. The current board has been updated from its original use as the lunchroom, and the halls of the main building serve as a historical tour with memorabilia, photos, and paintings of Tivoli history and the District's oldest school buildings.

Hughes spoke about his journey in Walton County and recognized Joyce Kelly, former Principal at Walton Middle School. Kelly hired Hughes as Assistant Principal at Walton Middle School and would later recommend him as her replacement upon her retirement in 2004.

Walton County has become an example worldwide of what can happen with dedicated teachers, staff, and leadership. In only seven years, the Walton County School District has risen from the 35th-ranked district in the state of Florida to the #3-ranked district. Walton County ranks #2 in the state for graduation and has only "A" and "B" graded schools. Serving more than 12,000 students, the Walton County School District is the largest employer in Walton County with over 1,600 employees.

After many questions from the audience, one attendee asked Superintendent Hughes what keeps him motivated on the hardest of days - to which he responded "Because I love children, and believe that every child has a right to a world-class education."