Dorchester 2 Superintendent Joe Pye may have been the biggest cheerleader Tuesday among the more than 900 students — plus another hundred or so faculty, staff and guests — gathered in the multipurpose room of the school bearing his name.
As the North Charleston school was named one of two elementary level winners of the Palmetto’s Finest Award during a live video announcement, Pye leaped from his chair waving blue and red pompoms and a deafening cheer roared through the crowded room.
"I'm not surprised," Pye said after the celebration. "I really expected this school to win. But I got into it and I was just so emotional that I did not even do the speech I prepared."
But the news was mixed for Dorchester 2, the only local district with schools in the running for the award.
Alston Middle School in Summerville, also a finalist, was not named a winner.
"I'm disappointed and somewhat surprised," Pye said. "That's a school, too, that has really changed its culture for the best. I just saw a transformation among the teachers and the students there, and I'm glad they got some recognition out of this. Hopefully, they'll be fueled next year to go and take it because they deserve it."
Being on the Pye campus brought back memories of summer 2011, when the district worked hard to finish construction on time for the school year, the superintendent said. Even then, Principal Wanda Carroll-Williams had her sights on being named one of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators' Palmetto's Finest winners.
"This has been a journey," Carroll-Williams said as she reflected during a quiet moment in a conference room. "It's been a long time coming. We thought initially we would get it done in three years, but we just weren't quite ready at that point. And finally, last year, it clicked that we should go ahead and submit the application."
The awards are presented to schools that offer the best in innovative, effective educational programs after extensive evaluations by fellow educators and previous Palmetto’s Finest winners.
The extensive application includes elements on student achievement, instructional programs, professional learning communities and school culture.
Pye is the first school in the Charleston region to be named since Gregg Middle School won the award in the 2014-15 school year.
The other elementary school winner this year was Batesburg-Leesville Elementary in Lexington District 3. The middle school winner was Chapin Middle in Lexington-Richland District 5, and the high school winners were Chapman High in Spartanburg District 1 and Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology in Darlington County Schools.