Many private schools have opened new buildings, strengthened their curriculum or bolstered their commitment to the fine arts.
At least one school in Beaufort County has done all three this year.
That's what made Mike Rockers, principal of St. Francis Catholic School, a deserving winner of this year's Charles Aimar Educational Leadership Award from the S.C. Independent School Association, according to Larry Watt, the association's executive director.
Rockers, who has led the Hilton Head Island school for six years, was surprised by the statewide recognition last week at the association's annual fall conference for headmasters. He was chosen from among the leaders at the association's more than 100 schools.
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"The Lord has blessed the school," Rockers said. "And I happened to be sitting in the principal's office when He did it."
Rockers credited the school's staff, its team of more than 60 regular volunteers and the St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church parish with the school's recent accomplishments, including a new gymnasium that opened in April.
The school opened a fine-arts center the year before, and Rockers said the center has provided more opportunities for students in the arts, including music and drama.
"That's an important part of being a complete person," he said.
Rockers, 56, is from Minnesota and came to St. Francis after working with Catholic schools in Arkansas. He served nearly 10 years as the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock but was eager to return to a principal position at an elementary school, he said. St. Francis serves about 200 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
"You're connecting with students every day," he said.