Two Beaufort County schools are one step closer to winning statewide honors.
Beaufort Middle and Hilton Head Island High are both finalists for the 2012 Palmetto's Finest Schools Awards. They are among seven other schools vying 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, principal Carole Ingram said.
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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 semifinalist last year, said principal Amanda O'Nan, who added she is confident her school will win this year.
"We've come so far and done so many great things," she said. "I think we deserve it."
Two other high schools are competing for the award.
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 and amount of instructional time.
"We're academically on target and moving upward 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 past year.
Beaufort Middle's accolades include 24 Junior Scholars in 2011. The designation recognizes eighth-graders who have scored high 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 cited parent support through the School Improvement Council and Parent Action Council as boosting the school to the finals.
Schools up for the award are judged by previous Palmetto's Finest winners and other educators.
The schools submitted 20-page applications in the fall and have been visited by a review committee. They will have one more on-site evaluation before the awards are decided.
Criteria include student achievement, faculty training, program goals, teaching quality, office practices and community involvement.
Only one Beaufort County public 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 this year will be announced March 27.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.