Two Beaufort County schools are one step closer to winning statewide honors.
Beaufort Middle School and Hilton Head Island High School are both finalists for the 2012 Palmetto's Finest Schools Awards. They will compete against seven other schools for recognition from the S.C. Association of School Administrators and its partner, Carolina First Bank.
This is the second time Beaufort Middle School has progressed this far in the judging. The school was a finalist last year, according to a district news release.
Having gone through the judging process before should give the school a competitive edge, Beaufort Middle principal Carole Ingram said.
The school is only up against one other middle school, so it has a 50-50 chance of being the one middle school in the state to snag the award. Last year, three middle schools competed.
Hilton Head High was a semi-finalist last year, said principal Amanda O'Nan, who added she is confident her school will win the award.
"We've come so far and done so many great things," she said. "I think we deserve it."
Hilton Head High is the first school in the district to receive "excellent" ratings on both "absolute" and "improvement" categories on state report cards. Among factors considered in those ratings are scores on state-mandated tests, student-teacher ratios, amount of instructional time and more.
"We're academically on target and moving upwards at a steady-but-quick motion," O'Nan said. According to a district news release, students at Hilton Head High devoted almost 17,000 hours of community service in the last year.
Beaufort Middle's accolades include 24 Junior Scholars in 2011. That designation recognizes eighth-graders who have done well on the Preliminary SAT. The school's arts curriculum has earned it designations as a Distinguished Arts Program School and an Arts in the Basic Curriculum School. Ingram also said "terrific" parent support through the school's School Improvement Council and Parent Action Council boosts the school to one of the top in the state.
Schools up for the award are judged by previous Palmetto's Finest winners and other educators.
The schools will have on-site evaluations one more time before the awards are decided. They submitted 20-page applications in the fall and have been visited by a review committee once. Criteria include student achievement, faculty training, program goals, teaching quality, office practices and community involvement.
Only one Beaufort County School -- Shell Point Elementary, in 1998 -- has won the award in its 33-year history. The four schools -- two elementary, one middle and one high school -- that win the award will be announced March 27.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.