Banks Bitterman took a half day off Tuesday, taking his family to Lake Lanier. It was a well-deserved break for the Buford High School principal after a school year that left him with plenty of reasons to be proud.
In fact, 2010-11 may be the best all-around year the school has ever had, as Buford excelled in academics, the arts and athletics. Bitterman coined the phrase Triple "A" excellence, and this past school year there were few, if any, schools that could match Buford.
Buford had the highest scores of any of Gwinnett's traditional public schools on the Georgia High School Graduation Test, posting an overall pass rate of 94.9 percent. The school has shown a marked improvement since Bitterman became principal three years ago.
"We were the highest in the county (among traditional public schools) and in the top three percent in the state," Bitterman said. "We've come a long way."
Buford also won the Gold Award from the Georgia Department of Education for having the highest percentage of students that met and exceeded standards on the Graduation Test. The awards are given through Georgia's Single Statewide Accountability System.
If that wasn't enough, the Wolves won the literary state championship in addition to claiming four state championships in athletics -- softball, baseball, girls basketball and football. And the boys basketball team was in contention, too, finishing as state runner-up.
It was a AAA rating type of year for the Class AA school, and Bitterman is quick to praise those who helped make it happen.
"I have (athletic director) Dexter Wood in athletics and Kim Staples in the arts, and you can't beat people like that," Bitterman said. "I think it comes down to it in Buford that excellence is not an act, excellence is a habit. We expect excellence in the classroom, excellence in the halls, excellence in athletics and excellence in the arts.
"We're holding kids and faculty members to high expectations and that leads to great things."
Buford has long been known for its football program, but this year's other exploits show that the school is a force in all areas. That's particularly pleasing to Bitterman, a former wrestling coach who enjoys motivating students to raise their level of performance whether it's on the field, in the classroom or during a performance.
But like any person in charge, Bitterman knows it takes a village to turn in accomplishments like Buford High had this past school year.
"We couldn't do it without complete support from the top down," Bitterman said. "From the City Commission, from the Board of Education, from our central office and our superintendent, Dr. Geye Hamby, from our faculty and staff, our community and from our students," Bitterman said. "And that culture has taken us to another level."
A level of Triple "A" Excellence.
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.