Okatie Elementary School has been tapped for a national honor.
The school is one of five in the state nominated for the 2013 National Blue Ribbon School award. The news came as a surprise to principal Jamie Pinckney.
"I was shocked," she said. "That's just something that I have never even considered, that we would reach that level."
The award, given every year to public and private schools, recognizes schools that are either academically superior or have made dramatic gains in student achievement.
Okatie is distinguished by a staff that strives to give struggling students extra help, Pinckney said, and parents, businesses and a community that support the school.
In the past four years, it has boosted its rating on state report cards from "average" to "excellent," and maintained the "excellent" rating for the past two years. State report card ratings are based on scores on state-mandated tests, student-teacher ratios, money spent per student, amount of instructional time and other factors.
The school won a Palmetto Gold state award this year for overall academic achievement, and a Palmetto Silver award for closing achievement gaps among students.
Earlier this year, it was one of five S.C. schools earning the Exemplary Writing Program award, based on a five-month evaluation of writing instruction.
"The last two years, we worked toward the (writing) award," Pinckney said. But the Blue Ribbon award "was just not something I had on the radar."
Blue Ribbon candidates are nominated by the state superintendent and the S.C. Department of Education. The schools then apply for the honor.
Pinckney said she's not sure what the application will entail.
"We haven't seen it yet, and I'm a little nervous," Pinckey said. "We only have roughly six weeks to complete this, and we'll do our best to make Beaufort County proud."
Four other S.C. schools were nominated for the award: Mayo High School for Math, Science, and Technology in Darlington County; Flowertown Elementary in Dorchester District 2; Ware Shoals Elementary in Greenwood District 51; and New Prospect Elementary in Spartanburg School District 1.
All five qualified as "exemplary high-performing schools" because their students scored within the top 15 percent on English and math standardized tests.
Beaufort County has had one Blue Ribbon school since the award began in 1982. Beaufort Elementary School won in 1999.
National winners of the 2013 award will be announced next fall in Washington, D.C. Pinckney hopes Okatie Elementary will be among them.
"It would be awesome," she said. "That's something we'll strive very hard to do."