Two midlands schools named Palmetto’s Finest

March 15, 2023

Five schools have been named 2023 Palmetto’s Finest Schools.

They are:

  • Lake Murray Elementary School, Lexington School District 1
  • Lake Murray Elementary School, Lexington-Richland School District 5
  • John W. Moore Middle School, Florence School District 1
  • Woodmont High School, Greenville County Schools
  • Southwood Academy of the Arts, Anderson School District 5

Teachers, school supporters, and education leaders from around the state tuned into SCETV on Wednesday, March 15, to learn which schools would take the top honors. The schools underwent an intensive application process requiring self-evaluation, peer review, and two on-site examinations. The application and visits verified evidence of exceptional student achievement, instructional programs, professional learning communities, and school culture.

Lake Murray Elementary School, Lexington School District 1 (Lexington, SC; Jennifer Stanley, Principal) serves over 900 students from 3K to fifth grade. Lake Murray Elementary School (LMES) embodies the mission “Anchored in Leadership, Anchored in Learning,” by implementing a variety of systems and structures, such as monthly leadership celebrations. In addition, they have various school-based teams that students may apply for, such as the LMES News Team, Mariner Book Buddies, and Navigators. In 2019, Lake Murray Elementary was named a National Blue Ribbon School for overall academic excellence. In 2021, they were one of 69 schools in the United States to be named a Special Olympics Unified Champion School.

Lake Murray Elementary School, Lexington-Richland School District 5 (Chapin, SC; Kelly Reese, Principal) serves over 800 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Throughout the year, students are provided a variety of opportunities to become involved through their school-wide PBIS program with activities such as school-wide book study, virtual talent show, Mindful Mondays, Chat & Chew events, leadership teams, and The Great Kindness Challenge. On any given day, their mission to “Educate, Empower, & Encourage” permeates through the halls of their building. They realize the role their school plays in developing children to be “Difference Makers” in our world.

John W. Moore Middle School, Florence School District 1 (Florence, SC: April Leroy, Principal) serves over 1,000 students in grades 6 through 8. Moore’s vision is to develop well-rounded critical thinkers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) to create productive, responsible citizens who are prepared to succeed in an evolving society. Their enhanced STEAM pathways give students “Exposure, Exploration, and Experience” in all classes. Students are exposed to rigorous courses with hands-on, project-based learning and have exploration opportunities to strengthen skills with real-world problem solving. All students will have experienced a premier learning atmosphere to become leaders and scholars equipped with 21st century skills.

Woodmont High School, Greenville County Schools (Piedmont, SC: Joseph Foster, Principal) serves over 2,100 students in grades 9 through 12. For the last two years, Woodmont High had the highest graduation rate in the Greenville County School District. It was also recognized for the highest overall academic growth and a variety of other academic achievement awards, receiving an “Excellent” State Report Card rating for the first time in school history. The school has used a data-driven and innovative model to increase achievement for all students. These improvements were so impressive that Woodmont High School was also recognized as a “Model School” by the International Center for Leadership in Education, making it one of only 16 schools in the nation to receive that recognition.

Southwood Academy of the Arts, Anderson School District 5 (Anderson, SC: James Smith, Principal) serves 386 students as a pure magnet school for the performing arts in grades 6 through 8 and higher-level arts courses for grades 9 through 12. Based on 2022 SC Ready test scores, Southwood Academy ranked 1st among 25 similar schools and 14th among all middle schools in South Carolina. Southwood Academy has also received the Palmetto Gold Award each year it has been awarded for high academic achievement and significant improvement in student test scores. As an Arts in Basic Curriculum exemplary site, Southwood students also receive recognitions in each of the school’s art areas including region band and orchestra; All-State band, orchestra, and choir; state art shows; dance competitions; and large theatrical productions.

“The Palmetto’s Finest award winners are models of innovation throughout our state,” said Beth Phibbs, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) executive director. “They set the standard of excellence by creating an outstanding school culture which includes setting high expectations and providing numerous opportunities for leadership.”

Presenting the awards to the five winners were Penny Atkinson (Chairman, Palmetto’s Finest Committee), Kelly Pew (Chairman-elect, Palmetto’s Finest Committee), and Angie Rye (President, SC Association of School Administrators). Judi Gatson (Anchor, WIS-TV) acted as host and Mistress of Ceremonies for the awards presentation.

SCASA is the professional organization for school leaders in South Carolina, with a membership of more than 5,000. From professional development opportunities and research, to publications and legislative advocacy, SCASA’s focus is to support school leaders in providing the best possible education for South Carolina’s young people. As a state affiliate of three national associations for school leaders, SCASA also works on the national level.