FLORENCE — The Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools has selected Florence High School as one of three 'Schools of Distinction" in District 7.
The award recognizes schools that serve as outstanding educational models for other schools in the state.
Florence High, Leeds High School and Verner Elementary School in Tuscaloosa will be recognized Feb. 25 in Prattville. At that time, the winner of the CLAS Banner School award will be announced.
Florence High School was selected for its innovation through the Florence Academy of Fine Arts, which is in its sixth year.
Director of Fine Arts Jerry Foster said the honor came about as a result of "great students and great teachers working together to make wonderful things happen."
Foster said he believes the CLAS recognition came as a result of FAFA's unique status in the state.
"There's not another school like us in the state," Foster said. "We're embracing nine areas of fine arts here with 120 different classes for grades ninth through 12th."
In addition, FAFA offers classes from eight of the nine areas to eighth-graders. The program has recently expanded into the fifth and sixth grades, where students can select from among five and six fine arts areas.
There are currently more than 2,200 students in fine arts classes in grades fifth through 12th. Another 300 students are waiting.
"This program is about trying new things constantly, and the first five years we discovered what did and didn't work," Foster said. "We're in one of the most talented areas in the country with so much natural ability and we want to capitalize on that for our students."
There are 39 fine arts teachers working in the FAFA program with 32 of them full-time. There are also three adjunct instructors, each professionals from their respective industries.
Foster said the program has been good for the students and teachers in the Florence district, and the interest has spread statewide as 50 to 60 schools have visited.
"I believe the difference with us is that everyone bought into the dream and made it happen," Foster said. "You could say this school system walks the walk."
Vic Wilson, executive director of CLAS, said in a prepared statement that the selected schools represent Alabama's best.
"The stakeholders at every School of Distinction are to be commended for striving for excellence daily," he said.
Florence High School Principal Rod Sheppard said he continues to be amazed at what the school has to offer, and he's glad the CLAS organization recognizes the innovation.
"I'm excited about the honor and just thankful to get this well-deserved recognition," he said.
"There's no school in the state that can touch what FHS has to offer — it's unbelievable. Our fine arts academy is actually becoming a recruiting tool for us. It's making a huge difference with a lot of kids."