Congratulations to the Beaufort County School District for producing the finest middle school and high school in the state of South Carolina.
Beaufort Middle School and Hilton Head Island High School won the Palmetto's Finest award this week from the S.C. Association of School Administrators.
Beaufort Middle was a finalist last year, and Hilton Head High was a semifinalist a year ago. But to help put this achievement in perspective, only one Beaufort County school has previously won the award, which has been given annually to two elementary schools and a middle school since 1978 and to a high school since 1997. It's only the third time two schools in the same district have won the award in the same year.
Criteria for the award include student achievement, faculty training, program goals, teaching quality, office practices and community involvement. It involves a 20-page application and two campus visits by judges.
The school administrators' association says, "The selection process includes a comprehensive review of a school's program, focusing on the key question: 'What impact is this school making on the lives of students and the community, and is it deserving of the Palmetto's Finest Award?'<2009>"
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale and both principals -- Carole Ingram at Beaufort Middle and Amanda O'Nan at Hilton Head High -- said the awards reflect a team effort that spreads beyond the school doors into the community.
"It demonstrates what can happen when students and schools have strong leaders, hard-working faculty and staff, and consistent support from their communities," Truesdale said.
O'Nan said, "I have an extremely dedicated staff that looks after each and every individual kid. They go above and beyond to make students feel like they are important and cared about."
As an example, teachers gave extra one-on-one attention to 70 students struggling to pass some state tests, and almost all of them succeeded.
Ingram said the award goes to the full community. "So many community agencies support our students in uilding and invite us out to learn in their businesses," she said. She also cited parental support through the School Improvement Council and Parent Action Council.
That is all true, but let's be very clear that these schools are excelling in large part because they have excellent principals and teachers. They deserve our applause. Society tends to pour most of its adulation on school athletic achievements. Athletics, and all extracurriculars, are an important part of the education the schools offer children, but it's not nearly as important at the two awards earned this week.
These awards are the result of intense effort by principals, teachers, parents, businesses, nonprofits and individual volunteers. Enough of them have demanded the finest, -- and have gone far beyond what is normally expected of them -- to achieve something remarkable.
These awards are not in themselves a magic bullet to transform all students. Nor are they a resting place or an end-of-the-road for two hard-working schools. But let the record show that our public schools can run with the best of the best, and that the bar has now been raised for all Beaufort County schools.