In 2004 Alabama began recognizing high-performing public schools in high-poverty areas through the Torchbearer program. This year, five out of six of those schools were part of the Mobile County Public School System.

A significant number of MCPSS schools are considered low income, giving them access to Title 1 federal funding. In 2015, Title 1 funding level for MCPSS will be $22,103,965, and though that number is one of state’s highest, it is actually on a downward trend.

The Torchbearer designation is awarded to Alabama schools that have met significant and difficult academic benchmarks despite a significant population of low-income students.

This year the requirements needed to become a Torchbearer School were raised, but Anna F. Booth Elementary School, George Hall Elementary School, St. Elmo Elementary School and Wilmer Elementary School were still able to make the cut.

Hall Elementary School principal Melissa Mitchell said being named a Torchbearer is an amazing honor, but the pursuit of the award isn’t what has driven her school’s success.

“Our primary focus is doing the best for our children, she said. “With the new standards we’ve adopted over the last few years, we’ve just tried to make sure we increased our student’s level of rigor. If that results in a Torchbearer, then that’s great.”

Mitchell said the school has been able to empower students to learn by creating a collaborative environment among its teachers.

“Our teachers work together to have common lesson plans and common assessments,” she said. “We just try to make sure we’re all on the same page, and it seems to be a formula that works.”

Superintendent Martha Peek said she and the entire system are proud of all four schools’ accomplishment.

“The Torchbearer designation highlights the accomplishments of students in meeting high learning expectations and acknowledges the schools’ attainment of rigorous academic goals,” Peek said. “Administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents make academic achievement the top priority in these schools, and they are to be congratulated for earning the designation.”

Sycamore School in Talladega County and Monroe Intermediate School in Monroe County were the only Torchbearer Schools in the state not located in Mobile County.