Bluffton High and Okatie Elementary schools are semifinalists in the 2013-14 Palmetto's Finest Schools competition and will receive an official visit from the awards committee soon.
The criteria for the award, from the S.C. Association of School Administrators, include student achievement, faculty training, program goals, teaching quality, office practices and community involvement.
Bluffton High and Okatie Elementary are among 17 public schools across the state that will be visited before the second week in December, according to Hannah Pittman, director of professional development at SCASA.
"We are cleaning house for company a bit, and making sure everything is shipshape, but we still are who we are," Bluffton High principal Mark Dievendorf said. "Even though we're getting ready, the key to why we're in the consideration process is because of what has happened instructionally in the classroom each and every day."
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The high school should know by Friday when its visit will occur, he said.
Okatie Elementary principal Jamie Pinckney said her school's visit is scheduled for Nov. 12.
She said the school will also do some "sprucing up" before the visit, but its main attraction -- curriculum and instruction -- is already in place.
The schools submitted applications before the Sept. 25 deadline, which were evaluated and scored by independent readers. Pittman said 17 schools applied this year, and the review committee decided they all deserved visits.
Pinckney -- whose school was recognized as a national Blue Ribbon school in September -- said the application process was demanding.
"It made us stop and think about what programs we have in place for our students," she said. "We wanted to make sure we were telling our story and capturing everything we wanted to."
Finalists will be announced in January. The elementary-school category can include as many as five finalists, and both the middle and high school categories each can have as many as three.
After finalists are chosen, those schools will receive a second visit, Pittman said. The winners -- usually two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school -- are announced in March.
Beaufort Middle and Hilton Head Island High schools won the award in the 2011-12 school year. No schools from the Beaufort County School District received it last year.
Both Okatie and Bluffton principals said they were excited to make the semifinals.
"The process just to be considered is an honor in and of itself," Dievendorf said.