It was right before winter break when Freeport High School got its best Christmas gift: an 'A' grade. The last time the school earned the high mark was in 2008.

After last year's B grade — previous years were Bs and Cs — principal Shirley Foster, administrators, faculty and students, all worked together to improve.

"We were really close to an A last year," Foster said. "This year, we just had an all-school combined effort to improve. We are thrilled."

Foster explained that school concentrated on using Advanced Placement curriculum in all classrooms, studying Cornell note-taking and concentrating on reading strategies.

"We also focused on individual attention — concentrating on the needs of the student," Foster said.

A Florida high school's grade reflects the amount of points they receive in the previous school year. The points derive from FCAT scores, graduation rates, accelerated coursework participation and performance and postsecondary readiness.

To the principal, faculty and students, the A grade means hard work pays off.

"It means that our collaboration and efforts are working," Foster said. "We can see a difference because we were pulling together for better achievement of the students."

Foster received a copy of the school's grade breakdown, personalized by Gov. Rick Scott.

"A great thing about our school is we improved nine percent in reading skills, ranking 16 out of 439 schools in Florida on improved reading," Foster said. "Governor Scott circled it and wrote 'Great job.' I think this is worthy of framing."

In the school years ahead, Foster said she'd like to maintain reading performance and work on graduation rates and math performance. She credits teachers and students for making the high mark happen. Now that school is back in session, the only thing left to do is celebrate.

"Oh yes, we will make a big deal about it," Foster said. “We will decide together how to celebrate. We want it to mean the most to students because they are the winners."