COLUMBIA — Three South Carolina schools are being recognized as national models of excellence.

The U.S. Education Department said Thursday that Gadsden Elementary in Richland District 1, Holly Springs Elementary in Pickens County and Townville Elementary in Anderson District 4 are among the 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

There are 255 public and 49 private schools being honored nationwide.

South Carolina’s winners fall into both categories recognized by the program. They are among the state’s top performers, and have posted dramatic test score gains with large percentages of poor students.

The winning schools’ poverty level ranges from more than 70 percent at Holly Springs to 98 percent at Gadsden.

South Carolina schools chief Mick Zais praises the schools for the prestigious distinction. He will attend a celebration Thursday afternoon at Gadsden Elementary.