Eleven Lancaster County schools earn Palmetto Awards

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By Reece Murphy

Eleven Lancaster County schools earned prestigious Palmetto Awards from the S.C. Department of Education this week for their outstanding performance.

Now in its 12th year, the annual Palmetto Gold and Silver awards recognize schools for academic achievement and high rates of improvement.

The awards are granted in two categories, general performance and closing the achievement gap, both based on data from the S.C. Department of Education's annual school report cards.

This year’s awards are for performance during the 2011-12 school year.

According the state Department of Education, of the eleven county schools recognized, only one – Indian Land Elementary School – won both awards.

ILES Principal Beth Blum said she’s proud of her staff and students and said the award shows that hard work pays off.

“We have high expectations for our students and staff,” Blum said. “Both are definitely rising to meet the challenge in a fantastic way.

“I am so very proud to be a part of the ILES family today and every day,” she said. “What an awesome place to come to work and grow each day.”

In addition to ILES, seven other district schools earned Palmetto Gold Awards for general performance. They are Discovery School, McDonald Green Elementary, North Elementary, Indian Land Middle, Indian Land High, Andrew Jackson High and Buford High schools. Buford Middle and Buford Elementary earned Palmetto Silver Awards for general performance.

Clinton Elementary School, which didn’t earn a Palmetto Award last year, won a Palmetto Silver for closing the achievement gap.

The “achievement gap” is the historic performance disparity between minority, low-income and special-needs students and their white peers.

The award is significant for the school since it faces unique challenges as the district school with the highest poverty rate.

Clinton Elementary School Principal Rachel Ray said the award represents several factors working together to help students improve their performance, nearly all of them revolving around giving students the tools they need to succeed.

“It most definitely has to do with the amount of professional development we had,” Ray said. “Another element is balance literacy. That’s where we try to take everything we focus on in different areas and bring them together into what we call a ‘literacy block.’”

Ray said a good example is teaching literacy, a subject that ties a wide range of subjects together since the need to be able to read underlies nearly all subjects.

Not only do teachers try to use vocabulary words in everyday context, Ray said, they also try to use those vocabulary words from other subjects, such as social studies.

Another factor, she said, is regular one-on-one time between teachers and individual students during reader’s workshops.

During such meetings, teachers not only pick a book suited to the individual students, they ask specific questions of them to help them learn to think deeply and learn on their own, then set personal “power goals” to achieve by the next meeting. 

That, Ray said, encourages accountability.

She said while those are only a few examples of what the school is doing to improve its performance, the bottom line is that it’s all about dedication – by the whole school

The award, Ray said, is something that reminds students to keep up the good work.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized for all the hard work we have to put in to helping our students become the best that they can be,” Ray said. “And we’ll continue to strive because there’s always more we can do to improve.

“But when you struggle like we do, to be recognized for something like this gives you some extra wind in your sails to move forward,” she said.

According to S.C. Education Oversight Committee spokeswoman Dana Yow, this year’s Palmetto Awards had a slight tightening of criteria from the previous year’s awards since changes last year resulted in 72 percent of the state’s schools earning Palmetto Awards.

“Last year, if a school had a growth rating of average or better (on their report cards) for three years or more, they were automatically given a silver award,” Yow said. “This year we tweaked the criteria so that the award was given to schools that scored good or better for two consecutive years.

“Really, you want this to recognize exemplary schools, and I think the sense was that we were over-identifying schools based on that one criteria,” Ray said.

Though fewer Lancaster County schools earned Palmetto Awards this year, school district officials said the achievement was still a great comment on the state of the district’s schools.

“We’re proud of all the schools’ accomplishments and how they’ve continued to do so well,” said Lancaster County School District Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Phipps. 

“We’re proud of their roles in helping our students improve their performance.”


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151