When Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Moss was asked to name the most exciting achievement in the district this past year, he hesitated — for all the right reasons.
“There are so many individual accomplishments at each of our schools,” said Moss of the successful 2013-14 school year for southern Beaufort County’s public schools. “I could spend all day talking about success stories at each one.”
Local educators and administrators echo that sentiment, each chiming in with varied ways success has been measured this past year and on a consistent, ongoing basis.
Hilton Head Island High School earned an “Excellent” rating on its state report card for the fifth year in row. The school also won the Athletic Director’s Cup for the fifth year in a row for excellence in athletics programs. And perhaps most telling, the Class of 2015 earned $7.6 million in college scholarships.
“That says to me we’re doing something that’s causing colleges and universities to be attracted to our graduates,” Moss says.
That same level of consistency is showing across the bridge at Bluffton High School, where the school has been rated “Excellent” on its state school report cards for the past three years. Bluffton High also made two distinguished national lists: It was named the ninth-best high school in South Carolina by U.S. News & World Report (putting it in the top 5 percent nationally) and 13th-best high school in South Carolina on The Washington Post’s “Most Challenging High Schools” list (also placing it in the top 5 percent nationally).
Meanwhile, Red Cedar Elementary, another noteworthy school in Bluffton, won the Palmetto’s Finest Award, which Moss says was a testament to how that school has been “transformed” into one of the most forward-thinking, cutting-edge elementary schools in the state.
But it isn’t just the area’s public schools that are winning awards and innovating in all areas of education. The island’s private schools are offering impressive programs and turning out exceptional graduates as well.
Hilton Head Preparatory School, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this school year, welcomed a new headmaster, Jon Hopman, last year, and introduced an expanded boarding program that housed 14 students under its direct care. Hilton Head Prep also was the recipient of a generous gift in the form of the Main Street Theatre, where it will now stage all of its theatrical productions.
At Sea Pines Montessori Academy, enrollment continues to climb, up from 130 last year to 160 enrolled for this school year so far. Not bad for a school that started as a one-room classroom in 1968. The school partners with Van der Meer Tennis Academy and Sea Pines Resort Golf for its tennis and golf instruction, and this year it’s adding a partnership with Conviction Training Facility, which will be responsible for its physical education program in kindergarten through middle school. Sea Pines Montessori also will be offering a Mandarin Chinese language lab this year.
Hilton Head Christian Academy, founded in 1979, continues to raise the bar for South Carolina private schools. The faith-based academy boats a student-to-teacher ratio of 10-to-1 and is on the cutting edge of classroom technology with Starboards, Neo2 Keybards, NetClassroom, SuccessNet and more. In an effort to raise good citizens, Hilton Head Christian also requires a minimum of 18 community service hours each year for students in grades nine through 12. More than $2.2 million in scholarships was awarded to the Class of 2014.
St. Francis Catholic School is a pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school. The average class size is 18 students with a focus on both spiritual and intellectual growth. There is an athletic program, an expanded enrichment program, a National Merit Scholarship Qualifying program, a National Junior Beta Club, a computer lab, a music program, an art program, theatre productions and more.
On the mainland, Cross Schools also benefits from a low student-to-teacher ratio. Small classes, rigorous academics, various enrichment courses, community service, sports and faith-based learning help prepare its students to grow into collaborative thinkers with moral and spiritual principles.
In Ridgeland, John Paul II Catholic School is the newest Catholic school in the Diocese of South Carolina. It offers a full academic program with an emphasis on Christian leadership, scholarship and service. Its students come from across the Lowcountry. The school is accredited by AdvancEd/SACS, under the umbrella of the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Charleston.
‘A WEALTH OF TALENT’
Moss says the area’s schools are lucky to have one particular resource at their disposal that gives them the momentum to continue driving forward.
“It’s our human resource,” he says. “We are truly blessed with a wealth of talent, from retirees to current employees; we have this eclectic group of artists, corporate executives, it just spans the globe. And I’ve not run across anyone yet who was not interested or willing to get involved in public education.”
This past year, the district moved into the school of choice arena, with each school now offering a particular theme to its educational plan, he says. And while all of the county’s public schools will now offer tablets to complement instruction plans in kindergarten through grade 12, the district is looking at ways to level the tech-driven educational playing field when school is not in session.
“Our next big venture is providing Wi-Fi access (to public school students) throughout the county,” he said. “It’s one strategy to have that device available during school, but when the student goes home, do they continue to have access to the data, not just to complete their homework but to enhance what they’re doing?”
The district is working with a private provider and the Federal Trade Commission on a possible plan to create Wi-Fi hot spots and, eventually, a way to connect the schools’ devices to Wi-Fi across the entire county, giving every student the same access to the technology they need.
“We’re on the cutting edge of so much with what we’re doing,” Moss said. “We have a very supportive board, community and County Council. And our municipalities are very supportive of what we’re doing. It’s really an exciting time to be engaged in education here in Beaufort County.”
HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
- Established: 1979
- Headmaster: Daniel Wesche
- Address: 55 Gardner Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
HHCA enrolls from Christian families to form a partnership between the family and school. The school not only provides a quality education but also encourages and influences the development of the student’s Christian faith. Believing that every student must be prepared academically for both college and life beyond the classroom, the school provides a rigorous academic program centered around core Christian values. The inclusion of arts, athletics and social experiences all combine to round out a uniquely Christian education.
- With a strong guidance department ensures that virtually 100 percent of Hilton Head Christian graduates receive acceptances to four-year colleges. Students choose to attend schools ranging from private competitive liberal arts colleges to the state’s top universities to well-regarded Christian colleges.Hilton Head Christian is unique in that both the head and heart are challenged to grow and mature. Led by an all-Christian faculty and staff, students are exposed to mature Christian believers who also meet and exceed all teaching and certification requirements. The small class size fosters a genuine family environment where students, parents and students share core values and beliefs. Hilton Head Christian enrolls students from over 35 different churches.
- The school is dedicated to shaping the worldview of students by infusing Christ across subjects and providing real, contextualized opportunities to disciple and be disciplined.
- Number of students: 370
- Student-to-teacher ratio: 10:1
- Number of teachers: 37
- Awards: Hilton Head Christian seniors receive some of the highest SAT scores in Beaufort County, 100 percent of seniors are admitted to four-year colleges, the lower grades achieve over the 90th percentile nationally on their standardized testing. During 2014-15 school year, students competed in six state championships and won three, and students completed more than 5,000 hours of community service. The middle school continues to excel with the addition of a new middle school principal, increased STEM and technology offerings, and a recently developed model United Nations program. Hilton Head Christian has a robust health and wellness program with a full-time registered nurse and a chef who is committed to promoting healthy nutrition.
SEA PINES MONTESSORI ACADEMY
- Established: 1968
- Headmaster: Melinda Cotter
- Address: 9 Fox Grape Road, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Sea Pines Montessori Academy follows the “authentic” Montessori philosophy, centered on these basic concepts:
- It is developmentally based.
- Children absorb knowledge by interacting with their environment and responding to it.
- Children are motivated from within.
- Adults must respect and trust the child.
- Teaching should foster the development of the whole child: social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual.
- The child is a self-teacher. Classrooms are materials-based, allowing the child many opportunities to initiate activities, explore and practice. The adult teacher serves as support person and facilitator.
- Adults are models for the children, and our behavior should exemplify the attitudes we would like the children to imitate.
- An authentic Montessori environment as found at SPMA fosters self-respect, caring and tolerance for others, and a responsible approach to the earth.
- Although children are individuals with varying personalities, abilities, and interests, the Montessori experience strongly influences the kind of person each will become. Most Montessori students become creative thinkers and problem solvers, cooperative learners, confident in their abilities, socially and ecologically responsible, academically skilled, balanced, self-directed and independent “citizens of the world.”
- Sea Pines Montessori is unique in that it is the only independent school in South Carolina to offer the Suzuki method of music education as part of every student’s education. Dr. Suzuki called his teaching method the “mother-tongue approach,” inspired by the fact that children so effortlessly learn to speak their native tongue. Prompted and encouraged by the parents’ love and the family environment, the child responds and develops this most difficult of skills, that of intelligible speech. In the Suzuki approach each of these principles is used in the learning of an instrument (piano & violin). The mother-tongue approach has successfully been applied to other fields such as art, poetry and mathematics.
- Number of students: 160
- Student to teacher ratio: 8:1 (average)
- Number of teachers: 26
- Awards: Duke TIP scholars, Hilton Head citizenship award, and first place awards for writing/essay contests.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND HIGH SCHOOL
- Principal: Amanda O’Nan
- Address: 70 Wilborn Road, Hilton Head Island, 29926
Hilton Head Island High School is a public school that strives to prepare each student to become a productive, responsible citizen in a complex, global, technological age that requires lifelong learning. Hilton Head High achieves this through:
- Providing a rigorous, balanced curriculum and exemplary teaching.
- Maintaining a disciplined, highly academic atmosphere and expect the best from every student.
- Fostering personal responsibility, citizenship, and civility by enforcing high standards of student behavior.
- Promoting tolerance, trust and respect among all members of our multicultural school community.
- Providing a safe, inviting and stimulating school environment.
- Providing educational opportunities suited to each student's developmental needs and potential.
- Working in partnership with family and community to help each student succeed.
- Providing an environment in which excellent teachers thrive.
- Providing quality facilities and technological resources to enhance learning.
- Hilton Head High has a counseling department that works with parents and students to have effective communication to achieve academic success, both in high school and when seeking higher education.
- Number of students: 1,267
- Student to teacher ratio: 16.7 to 1
- Number of teachers: 76
- Established: 1998
- Headmaster: Shawn Young; preschool director, Susan Hackett
- Address: 495 Buckwalter Parkway, Bluffton, SC 29910
Cross School’s mission is to provide an education in the Anglican tradition of academic excellence, fostering respect for self and others, service to community, and a commitment to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. Its nationally normed standardized test scores are outstanding. Students in grades three through six work at the Food Bank on a rotational basis as well as participate in community service projects throughout the year. Students attend weekly chapel services, memorize scripture and learn about Christ in weekly catechesis classes.
- Cross School’s students traditionally place two to three grades above their current level on standardized tests. The advanced curriculum and low student-to-teacher ratio (10:1) allow students to progress through units of study with more success and at a faster pace. Cross students consistently place in the top levels in local, state and national academic challenges, and over 60 percent of fourth- through seventh-grade students are Duke TIP scholars.
- Students and families are involved in various community projects throughout the year. Instilling a sense of support for our community is anchored in our mission statement. Students are heavily involved in community service and are taught that "community" can mean family, school, neighborhood, city, or beyond. Younger students focus on family and school while older students focus on all areas of "community" and are more hands-on with service projects, even devoting part of the school day to serve. Cross Schools provides an excellent foundation for its students to thrive in every aspect of life; wherever their future leads them.
- Number of students: 190
- Student to teacher ratio: 10:1
- Number of teachers: 20
- Awards received in past year: SCISA State Drama Festival Winner, Girls' Cross Country 2nd place in regional meet, SCISA State Chess Tournament - 3rd place, SCISA State Drama Festival - Best Actor and Best Actress, SCISA State Art Show 2nd Grade Division - 2nd Place, SCISA Regional Spelling Bee - 6th Grade Winner, DAR Essay Winner 7th Grade
JOHN PAUL II CATHOLIC SCHOOL
- Established: 2013
- Principal: Walter Dupre
- Address: 4211 N Okatie Highway, Ridgeland, SC 29936
John Paul II Catholic School is committed to preparing students with diverse learning abilities for the challenges of life through intellectual, physical and spiritual programs that advance academic excellence, leadership, a healthy lifestyle and service to others while fostering discipleship according to the traditions of the Catholic faith.
During a brainstorming session near the end of the first year of the school’s existence, students came up with the acronym SHIELD as a way of explaining the mission and the spirit of John Paul II Catholic School, based on the image of the Golden Warrior’s shield:
John Paul II Catholic School offers a growing college preparatory curriculum that readies students for the rigors of college. Through its Learning Center, the school also assists those students who may require additional strategies and coping mechanisms for life skills and academics.
John Paul II Catholic School is committed to forming students in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, fostering the formation of the whole person, body, mind and soul. Blending learning with faith in God, and faith in God with daily life.
This year, the school is introducing the House. The House System is an alternative form of student/school governance where students from all grades are divided into separate groups called “Houses” that contain 40-45 students under the mentorship of at least three faculty members. The House System has three primary objectives:
- To increase pastoral care of each student.
- To allow students opportunities to build strong personal and collegial relationships.
- To encourage every student to develop as a leader.
John Paul II Catholic School is beginning the construction of an Athletic Center this August.
Although John Paul II is a Catholic institution located near the center of the Lowcountry Deanery, it exists to benefit every community in the Lowcountry. Diversity is part of the school’s mission and one of its core values . . . “All Are Welcome.”
- Number of students: 171
- Student to teacher ratio: 9.5 to 1
- Number of teachers: 14 full-time and 9 part-time
- Awards: 1st Place Middle School SCISA State Math Meet (Meaghan Lyons individual winner), 2nd Place Middle School Christ Our King State Math Meet, 1st Place St. Francis Middle School Volleyball Tournament, 1st Place Middle School Champions Boys Soccer Tournament, State Champion Swimmer – 100 meter breaststroke – Meaghan Lyons, School Teacher of the Year – Ashley Byrd – Spanish
ST. FRANCIS CATHOLIC SCHOOL
- Established: 1996
- Principal: Brian Pope
- Address: 45 Beach City Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
Faith formation, quality academics, a nurturing community, extraordinary extracurricular activities, and a disciplined environment are among the many benefits that a St. Francis Catholic School education provides.
St. Francis Catholic School’s mission, “To nurture students’ spiritual and intellectual growth in an authentically Catholic community committed to academic excellence” is at the forefront of everything they do. Students are nurtured in a safe, supportive environment that focuses on the development of the whole child. Families become part of a close-knit community – one in which parents are actively involved with the school.
- Over the last 18 years, St. Francis Catholic School’s 8th Grade graduates have built an impressive track record of achieving academic success as well as becoming leaders in high school and college. Forty percent of the past four 8th Grade graduating classes have been South Carolina Junior Scholars and SCISA George Grice Scholars. The majority of our alumni enter honors level classes at the high school level and many earn high school credit for courses they completed at St. Francis Catholic School.
- At St. Francis Catholic School, they know that sports can bring out the best of the human spirit and that lessons can be learned on the playing field as well as in the classroom. With this is mind, they strive to provide young athletes with a positive experience in athletics.
- The SFCS athletic program includes senior and junior girls’ volleyball and coed cross country in the fall, junior and senior boys’ and girls’ basketball in the winter, and boys’ baseball in the spring. Their “no cut” policy allows each student the chance to explore an interest in a sport or build a foundation for participation in high school athletics. Student athletes compete against other private and public middle schools in the Lowcountry and participate in Diocesan tournaments. St. Francis hosts two Knights of Columbus Tournaments each year, the K of C Volleyball Tipoff Tournament in September and the K of C Basketball Tournament in December.
- St. Francis athletes have been blessed with state of the art facilities, including our 15,000 square foot gymnasium, and exceptional coaching as well as dedicated parents and volunteers who sell tickets, man concessions, and cheer on our Wolves!
- St. Francis Catholic School includes a state of the art Fine Arts Building. Students in grades Pre – Kindergarten through grade 8 have music and art class each week. Middle School students and 5th Grade students participate in annual musicals and plays. Each year our Middle School choir participates in the SCISA music festival earning high honors and recognition for both group and individual performances. Last year the music program introduced a ukulele program in the 6th Grade and the art program expanded its pottery and glass programs with new equipment.
- Number of students: 200
- Student to teacher ratio: 10 to 1
- Number of teachers: 20
- Awards: 2015 Rotary Teacher of the Year – Mrs. Tori Safe