By Deborah Wheeler The night of Oct. 13, 1996, Kim Mixson signed her teaching contract on the hood of a car in the parking lot outside the Walton County School Board offices. Seaside Neighborhood School?s charter, securing its place in history as one of the first five charter schools in the state of Florida, had just been approved by WCSB. The next morning, Mixson went to work in one of two portable buildings in the Seaside Lyceum as one of three teachers at the newly-formed Seaside Neighborhood School. ?We didn?t have books, paper, pencils, staplers, or anything else,? Mixson remembers. The 36 children who showed up sat in folding chairs. Parents, along with the community, began to bring in furniture and whatever anyone could find that might be of use. ?We had no resources and we (the teachers) were doing everything. We had no secretary or planning periods. Parents helped clean bathrooms,? said Mixson. ?Our motto was ?we were building the plane as we flew it.?? The young teacher endured, largely due to the enthusiasm of the school?s volunteer principal, Rosemary Williams. ?Rosemary Williams is a visionary,? said Mixson. ?You couldn?t help but get caught up in her enthusiasm. She was so excited and convinced that this could happen.? Looking back, Mixson said that first year was great, regardless of the challenges. The school became involved in the Turtle Watch program, the community was good to them and it was a year of fun and new experiences, she said. The number of students has grown to 113 during the 10 years the school has been open. Instead of two small portables, students attend classes in three different two-story buildings built on land donated by Seaside founder Robert Davis. The first building was paid for by Davis? donation of proceeds from the filming of ?The Truman Show? at Seaside. ?We have a lot more stuff now,? Mixson said with a laugh, ?but the important things haven?t changed. We still have great supporters and two wireless computer labs. ?We still try to do everything we can do for our students and not always in the school environment. We emphasize academics and we?re also very concerned that they grow socially and emotionally. It?s a place where kids can learn and express themselves in a nurturing environment. We have parents who are involved and a staff that truly enjoys what they?re doing. ?We are fortunate to be involved in such an awesome community where we have access to the beach and arts and we take advantage of them. We try to give back. Rosemary?s vision is still here.? In another 10 years, Mixson said she will probably still be at SNS. ?If I?m going to teach, this is where I want to be. It is home for me.? Her 10-year prediction for the school is that it will continue growing in academic achievements. The Florida Department of Education?s current rankings of the top elementary, middle and high schools has ranked SNS fourth in the state in FCAT scores and school grades. It is ranked first in Walton County and third in the state?s science FCAT scores. ?I think we can be No. 1,? said Mixson. ?We have the staff, support and parents.? The school employs eight teachers now. ?Being a part of the school has taught me a lot. We exceeded most of my expectations in a short time. In our wildest dreams did we think we?d be where we are now? Yeah! It taught me a huge lesson. It taught me to take a few minutes to dream the big dream. It?s possible. I love what I do. I love coming to work every day. I feel younger than I am,? she said. BUZZETT REMEMBERS Another founding member of the 1996 Seaside Neighborhood School team is Billy Buzzett of Seagrove. Buzzett is not a teacher, nor did he have school age children when he was approached by Rosemary Williams in 1996. But Buzzett knew his young children would need a neighborhood middle school some day and as a lawyer, he was in a position to be of help in the school?s startup. Buzzett accepted Williams? invitation to become the school?s first board president, a position he kept for five years. Buzzett recalls there was no lack of creativity for finding supplies or materials that first year and credits Charlie Crist, who was Commissioner of Education at the time, with helping him get desks and chairs for students. Buzzett remembers that first December when students and teachers put a live Christmas tree in a bucket between the two SNS portable buildings. Before it could be decorated, someone cut the tree down. Again, the community stepped up and another was donated. Buzzett also remembers the year Coca-Cola had a large meeting at Seaside and invited the students to help in the company?s team-building exercise. ?Rosemary shut the school down for two days for them to take part. A really good educator knows that a lot of education happens outside a book. It?s easy to stick with a lesson plan. She set an example of how to be flexible. It was a unique learning experience. Like when ?The Truman Show? was being filmed, a lot of it took place outside the school?s doors. The kids got to see the making of a movie first hand.? Buzzett, who is now a vice president for strategic planning with the St. Joe Company, calls his involvement with SNS ?the most rewarding thing I?ve done in my professional life.? ?After dealing with a somewhat skeptical school board, after 10 years, it?s nice to see a superintendent of schools look at this school as a real jewel,? he said. ?It was a hard thing to do. I grew as a person. It was an infant, now it?s a young adult. That?s something to be proud of, to watch a small, intimate school prosper, and its future is as bright as its past.? Both of Buzzett?s sons attended the ?school their dad had helped build.? He feels they benefi ted from the school?s unique environment, especially the opportunities afforded by community faculty through classes in manners, golfi ng, fishing, glass blowing and gardening. ?It built a great foundation for them. Where kids are integrated they get challenged. It?s a great model,? he said. PRINCIPAL BRUBAKER SPEAKS Seaside Neighborhood School?s current principal, Cathy Brubaker, has been there since 1999. She admits that SNS is an unusual school. ?Here, because we?re small, students often have a chance to lead. There is a high comfort level because they are taught by the same teachers all three years and those teachers are involved in their personal lives. They know everyone and don?t have to start over every year. ?You don?t have very many middle schools where kids actually have a chance to grow in self esteem,? said Brubaker.