St. James High School staff have always said they’re one of the best schools in the state.
Now they have a statewide award to prove it.
The Sharks took home the prestigious 2016 Palmetto’s Finest award Tuesday afternoon during a schoolwide ceremony that included a dance-off, whipped cream pie and a marriage proposal.
It’s just a special feeling you get at this school. Every day you swim with the ‘Sharks’ is a good day.
Phillip Armstrong, St. James High special education teacher
St. James was one of two S.C. high schools in the running for the Palmetto’s Finest award, joining Seneca High School. Eight S.C. schools were finalists for the annual awards, which are given to the best elementary, middle and high school in the state based on curriculum and academic student performance.
“It’s just beyond anything I can imagine for this school,” said Principal Vann Pennell. “Unbelievable.”
St. James was a finalist last year as well, but was beat out by Chapin High. This is the second year the school applied for the award.
“It feels pretty amazing, especially because we lost last year,” junior August Cribb said. “But it’s even more impressive that we won because it’s only our second year trying.”
Palmetto’s Finest is given annually by the S.C. Association of School Administrators to schools with the best in innovative and effective education programs. Each school goes through an intensive application process that includes self-evaluation, peer review and on-site examinations, and is evaluated on student achievement, instructional programs, professional learning communities and school culture.
The award is sponsored by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.
14 Horry County Schools have won a Palmetto’s Finest award since 1978
About 1,600 students, staff, teachers and community members gathered in the gym to watch a live feed of S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman in Columbia announce the high school winner. The room fell silent as students sat in the dark, watching the projected video on the gym walls.
The winning reaction was deafening.
“I couldn’t even breathe, I was crying so hard,” said junior Sydnee Steele.
Students screamed as the Sharks mascot danced in the lone spotlight, waiting for cheerleaders to run circles around the gym with huge “SHARKS” flags. The full lights came on as teachers showed off their dance moves.
Kristen Rogers, English teacher, had one of the biggest surprises of the day.
They’ve all worked really hard and they’re so deserving. It’s been a fabulous school since it opened.
Janice Morreale, Horry Board of Education member
She was surprised by boyfriend Jeremy Claws, who sneaked up behind her with a bouquet of roses and a small, square box. When Claws pulled out the engagement ring, all the students cheered.
“Our school gives everything it’s got, all the time,” Taylor Barnes, junior, said after the proposal. “It’s all just so wonderful.”
Horry County Schools have won Palmetto’s Finest 14 times since the awards were first given in 1978. The school district had back-to-back winners when Loris Middle School won in 2011, followed by Burgess Elementary School in 2012.
St. James administration said that although they’ve won one of the highest state honors, they’ll never stop trying to improve the academics and athletics. There are always ways to improve, Pennell said.
“This is just another opportunity for us to sit down and critique anything we need to critique,” Pennell said. “We don’t get complacent, and we’ll continue to improve.”
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN