WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — According to a new study by the U.S News and World Report, all 4 Walton County high schools landed in the top 16% of schools. 

The report looked at 25,000 high schools in the country. South Walton ranked the highest at 1,070. Followed by Freeport at 2,471, Paxton School at 3,584, and Walton High at 4,028. 

“The rankings were based on several factors, one of which is grad rate, state assessments, and how many college-type offerings we offer at our schools in Walton County. We do have AP classes, dual enrollment classes,” said Dr. Jennifer Hawthorne, Deputy Superintendent of Schools.

Walton County School District ranks third in the state. Harthorne said that is a big change from where they were before Superintendent A. Russell Hughes.

“I think in Walton County we’re so focused on excellence. We want to be the best, not just to say we’re the best, we want to be the best for our children. Our students deserve that. When our superintendent first started, when his election just came about, we ranked 35th in the state. We are now 3rd in the state. Graduate rate is 3rd in the state of Florida.” said Hawthorne. 

The School District lives off a motto to be E.P.I.C.

“We want to be epic. And everything that we do, we practice excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collaboration. And this award really solidifies all four of those,” said Brianna Leavins, Walton High School principal.  

Leavins hopes staff can continue being examples of excellence for students district-wide.  

“I tell them all the time, I know you’re successful when five years from now you’re a leader of your home, your leader, a leader at your job. You’re leading your family. That’s what being in the top percent really means to us,” said Leavins. 

The 2023 report came from findings in the 2021-2022 school year. 

With Freeport graduating 100% of seniors in 2023 and 98% district-wide, Hawthorne said they expect to raise in the report next year. 

“All of our schools have done wonderfully in the rankings, but I really want to brag on our grad rate district-wide. We had 96 percent of students graduate last year, but this U.S. News and World Report is actually based on the year beforehand where we were at 91% grad rate. So I know that even next year, Walton is going to rank even higher because of that grad rate coming up, which we’re so very proud of,” said Hawthorne.