Sheila Gail Knighton, an educator for 35 years in Flagler County, spent the last day of her life catching up with former students. Knighton was 60 years old when, unexpectedly, she died of cardiac arrest on March 1. A memorial will be held at 1 p.m. March 27, at Palm Coast United Methodist Church.
Cheryl Perry, who entered her classroom in 1986, will remember Knighton for teaching the importance of giving to others. Perry took part in the Student Government Association at Flagler Palm Coast High School, under Knighton’s leadership, and then Perry succeeded her as SGA leader. Perry has been an educator for 25 years now, and she still keeps in touch with many alumni on Facebook.
“When I shared her passing with many of her past ‘kids,’ we quickly realized that she must have spent the entire day before her passing reaching out to old students,” Perry said in an email to the Palm Coast Observer. “Over and over, someone would say, ‘I was just messaging with her yesterday.’”
When Knighton retired in 2019, she said in her yearbook spotlight: "Never trade an opportunity to learn and make connections as you can't pre-guess what opportunities you will encounter and how long you may use your skills. Learning opens doors where we see none. Be persistent!"
Another FPC alum, Michael Chiumento, wrote in an email, “Sheila played a part during a very important part of my life. … She was a positive light and mentor to probably a couple of thousand kids who went through our community’s schools. What a legacy to leave behind. She will be missed by all.”
Knighton grew up in Suwannee County. Her mother was a cafeteria worker, and her father never graduated high school, but both parents encouraged their son and four daughters — Sheila Knighton was the oldest of the children — to go to college. All four daughters ended up becoming educators, including Katrina Feola, who is now an assistant principal at Belle Terre Elementary School.
Feola remembers that her sister often took care of the household while their parents were at work. She sewed both of Feola’s prom dresses in high school.
Knighton eventually earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from Florida State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida. She taught home economics at FPC and was also an assistant principal at Indian Trails Middle School and Buddy Taylor Middle School.
Knighton never married or had children, Feola said. The students were her children.
“The people she taught to sew on a button or make a pair of boxer shorts — you’re taking about hundreds of lives,” Feola said. As times changed, Knighton became a Microsoft certified educator; she was a model of the concept that you must continue to learn throughout life, Feola said.
Among the items to be displayed at her memorial service will be a quilt that Knighton made for Feola years ago, out of the polyester material that was left over from the clothes she made for her sister.
“She was there for everybody,” Feola said. “If you needed a ride, a pick-me-up, she was there.”
Brian McMillan and his wife, Hailey, bought the Observer in 2023. Before taking on his role as publisher, Brian was the editor from 2010 to 2022, winning numerous awards for his column writing, photography and journalism, from the Florida Press Association.