The March 24 announcement during a live statewide telecast was greeted with loud cheers from Red Cedar students, who danced and sang with parents, staff and community supporters gathered in the school’s cafeteria.

Despite increasing enrollments and higher poverty levels – nearly three-quarters of Red Cedar’s students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price lunches – the school has steadily improved academic achievement and has become one of the top-rated schools in the state serving high-poverty populations.

Rated Average on its 2011 school report card published by the South Carolina Department of Education, Red Cedar improved to Good in 2012 and 2013 and Excellent in 2014.

“What makes Red Cedar special is the people,” said Superintendent Jeffrey Moss. “From the leadership to the teachers and staff, to the students and their parents, to the many volunteers and community supporters, everyone works together in a tremendously successful team effort.”

Designated as a federal Title I school because of its high poverty levels, Red Cedar earned two Title I distinctions this school year: Title I Reward School for Progress and Title I Reward School for Performance.

Red Cedar was the only Beaufort County school to earn both commendations this school year. The school also has a high percentage of students identified as gifted and talented.

Fifty-five percent of Red Cedar’s students come from families where English is not the primary language. Most students are from Mexico and other Central American countries, but other first languages include Vietnamese, Romanian and Russian.

“It’s absolutely awesome to receive this top recognition,” said Principal Kathy Corley. “Our motto is ‘Whatever it takes,’ ” and we mean that. We tailor our instruction to students’ needs, and we do whatever we can to help our students learn at high levels, be happy and healthy and enjoy their time with us.”

Red Cedar’s victory marked the fourth Palmetto’s Finest win for Beaufort County schools in just four years.

Okatie Elementary won in 2014, and Beaufort Middle and Hilton Head Island High School won in 2012, making Beaufort one of only four South Carolina districts to have had two winners in the same year. Only one other district in the state – Dorchester District 2 in Summerville – has had as many winners since 2012.

The extensive judging process, coordinated by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, includes evaluations by educators and previous Palmetto’s Finest winners who focus on elements of student achievement, faculty training, program goals, teaching quality, office practices and community involvement.

Red Cedar submitted a 20-page application in September and received an on-site visit Dec. 1 from a review committee after being named as a semifinalist. The school received a second site visit in February.

“We’re thrilled at the support from our PTO, our School Improvement Council and from individual parents,” Corley said. “They all came together to help us make sure that everything was in first-class order for the site visits. And the best thing is that we receive that kind of support all the time.”

Other 2015 Palmetto’s Finest winners announced today were Oak Grove Elementary (Lexington District 1), Gregg Middle School (Dorchester District 2) and Chapin High School (Lexington/Richland District 5).

The South Carolina Association of School Administrators presents Palmetto’s Finest awards each year to schools that SCASA says “offer the best in innovative, effective educational programs.” The Palmetto’s Finest award is celebrating its 36th year and is one of the most coveted and respected awards among educators.

SCASA is the professional organization for school leaders in South Carolina, with a membership of more than 2,900. 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.