School Board Approves New Administrators

Jason McClelland was named Principal of Mary Esther Elementary School, Cindy Gates was named Director I, Special Programs/Schools and Principal Evaluations, Belinda Small was named Assistant Principal of Shoal River Middle School, and Nathaniel Chatman was named Assistant Principal at Bob Sikes Elementary School at the March 14th Okaloosa County School Board Meeting.  

Jason McClelland - Mary Esther Elementary School Principal

Jason McClelland grew up in Shelby, Ohio.  His passion for being a teacher came to him at a young age.  He had many teachers that influenced him to move in the direction of education.  He graduated from Ashland University with a Bachelor’s in Education in 2003.  He decided to make a big move to Florida in 2004 and teach in the south. 

Before graduating from the University of West Florida with a Master’s in Ed Leadership, he was a teacher and Dean of students at Bruner Middle School.  After graduation, he was selected as the assistant principal at Destin Middle School.  He spent three years at Destin Middle School before moving on to Niceville High School as an Assistant Principal.  “I have had the pleasure to work with amazing teachers and administrators at those three school and I thank you for the time we have all spent together,” said McClelland.

“I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my wife Tracy,” said McClelland.  “She has been so amazing through-out my process of wanting to become a Principal.  I have also been blessed with an amazing daughter Emma.  She has been such a joy to our lives.  To Tracy and Emma, I love you and thank you for all that you have given me!”

Jason is very excited to start this new chapter in his life.  “I look forward to the new relationships I will build with the staff, students, and parents at Mary Esther Elementary,” McClelland commented. “I have been a Spartan, Marlin, and an Eagle.  It is now time to become part of the Thunderbird Family!”

Cindy Gates - Director I, Special Programs/Schools and Principal Evaluations

Cindy Gates was raised in Arkansas by a family of educators where learning was expected to be a lifelong endeavor.   She graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a BSE in Elementary and Special Education – and - with a Masters in Guidance and Counseling.  Cindy also received her Educational Leadership Certificate through post graduate work at the University of West Florida.

This is Cindy’s 34th year as an educator.  She started her career in Arkansas working as a guidance counselor, elementary teacher, ESE teacher, and a high school social studies teacher.   She moved to Okaloosa County in 1990 where she began her career in this county as a 2nd grade teacher at Wright Elementary.

Cindy spent twelve years as a teacher, counselor, specialist at the district level, and an assistant principal in the Okaloosa County School District.  She has spent the past fourteen years as the principal at Choctaw High School.

While at Choctaw Cindy has always worked hard to identify and grow successful leaders – nine of her assistant principals have become principals in our school district.  She is an active member of The College Board and has been the driving force behind TEAM Choctaw as they continue to grow a solid AP and IB Program.  She has worked with educators all over the country mentoring and training both young aspiring administrators and seasoned principals.

Cindy’s work and relationships with the community while serving on various boards has given her the opportunity to develop relationships and form partnerships with the Okaloosa County Workforce. This work has not only benefited Choctaw but will continue to benefit the entire school district.  She is proud of Choctaw as they continue to look for the most innovative ways to educate the students of the 21st Century.

Married to Mike Gates, a Choctaw graduate, they live in Shalimar where Mike has practiced law for the past 34 years.  Together they have five children, all graduates from Choctaw and four grandchildren.