Hammond Hill wins Palmetto's Finest

Hammond Hill Elementary's 60th birthday just got the icing on its cake.

The school was one of five Palmetto's Finest Award winners, joining Fort Dorchester Elementary and Ashley Ridge High from Dorchester District Two and Hanahan Middle and Marrington Middle School of the Arts from Berkeley County Schools.

"This means that not only our community recognizes the hard work and dedication that the teachers and staff have put in academic excellence, but that the state has also recognized us through National Blue Ribbon and now Palmetto's Finest," said Janet Vaughan, principal at Hammond Hill Elementary. "The program that we have here is making a difference in the life of children, and I truly believe that the teachers here develop relationships with students and those relationships help students understand that our teachers care and want what's best for them.

"They'll work hard and they'll do anything, because they know their teachers care."

The Palmetto's Finest Award comes from the S.C. Association of School Administrators. Since 1978 the award has been given to schools that offer excellent instruction and outstanding leaders. SCASA believes that the basis of this also comes from strong family and community involvement and a supportive business community.

"First it says that Hammond Hill is one of the finest schools in the state and the nation," said Dr. Beth Everitt, the Aiken School District superintendent. "And we're so proud of the staff and parents here. If you've ever visited here you know what a warm environment it is, but also how hard the kids work. The teachers here never give up. The parent community, anytime we need anything, they step up, and even when we don't ask for it they're amazing. It's a confirmation that great teaching goes on here, as well as great learning."

The celebration started off with Vaughan reading essays from a number of students, who spoke about why Hammond Hill was special to them. The cafeteria at the school was standing packed to near capacity, with students and teachers alike wearing their spirit shirts. There were also small performances from the school's second graders, singing the song, and the pep squad.

Initially there was a bit of a fake out, as Fort Dorchester Elementary was announced first. Many onlookers were disappointed, but there was another winner announced. Following the announcement that Hammond Hill Elementary had won the proverbial roof came off the building.

"This is a culmination of years of hard work on the staff, the parents, the students, the administration and it validates their efforts," said Peggy Trivelas, the elementary school academic officer. "It shows that with a focus on excellence you can achieve amazing things."

Vaughan and assistant principal Sara-Beth Brown will now be invited to Myrtle Beach for the SCASA summer convention, where they will also be recognized. A highlight for Vaughan is that she will also serve as a judge for Palmetto's Finest.

"I will be able to bring back ideas for this school, and I will be able to gain valuable experience," she said.