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Pasco school board could drop naming of valedictorians, salutatorians

The tradition of naming valedictorians and salutatorians for high school graduating classes could come to an end in Pasco County by the time members of the class of 2018 earn their diplomas.

A school district committee has recommended that, beginning with the freshman class of 2014-15, the school board eliminate the titles that go to the two seniors with the highest grade-point averages. Instead, high schools would be encouraged to use the Latin designations cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude that would give more seniors the opportunity to be recognized at commencement ceremonies for their high-achieving academic performances.

The proposal, part of the district’s revised student progression plan, tentatively is expected to go before the school board July 1 for a first reading.

The final vote would be Aug. 5.

Superintendent Kurt Browning and school board members already are anticipating resistance from at least some parents and students.

“As you can only imagine, once this is out there, I will tell you that you will have throngs of people who will rise up in arms,” Browning told board members during a Tuesday workshop.

Board member Joanne Hurley, who has had reservations when the topic came up before, said she supports the change.

“I truly believe the time has come when we need to recognize more students than two,” Hurley said.

School officials described the valedictorian/salutatorian tradition as one that had gotten out of control and overly competitive, with students making course selections based on how well a class could help their grade-point average and angry parents paying a visit to the superintendent when a son or daughter lost out, sometimes by hundredths of a percentage point.

The committee, which included teachers, district administrators, school administrators, students and parents, also had concerns that the system was not always fair. For example, a student could earn more points for a dual enrollment class than an Advanced Placement class. That fact helped drive class scheduling decisions for some students.

“What bothers me is they are making (course) decisions based on earning this title and it’s not always the best decision on what they should be taking for their future,” said Darrell Huling, the district’s supervisor for enriched and innovative programs.

Board member Cynthia Armstrong agreed that was a troubling aspect.

“Your high school career should not be about standing up there giving a speech (at graduation),” Armstrong said. “Your high school career should be about the best way for preparing for life and career.”

Board member Allen Altman did raise concerns about whether top-performing students would lose some of their incentive to work hard if valedictorians and salutatorians are no longer recognized.

Huling said those students have other motivations for excelling, such as earning admission to top colleges and winning academic scholarships. He said colleges have told the district that whether a student is designated valedictorian or salutatorian has little effect on admissions.

Even with the dropping of the titles for the top two students, high schools would still have class rankings.

Some schools in Pasco already use the Latin designations in addition to naming a valedictorian and salutatorian. Students earn those designations based on weighted grade-point average. For cum laude, the GPA is 3.2 to 3.7999; for magna cum laude, it’s 3.8 to 4.1999; and for summa cum laude, it’s 4.2 or higher.

The district also is planning changes to rules for being named to the honor roll. That became an issue after a mother complained to Browning that her son made honor roll, even though he had a D on his report card. It is possible for a student with a D to do that because Pasco’s honor roll for middle and high schools is based on weighted grade-point average of 3.2 or higher.

A proposed policy change would create different levels of honor roll -- a straight “A” honor roll; an “A/B” honor roll; and an honor roll based on grade-point average of 3.2 or higher. The new policy would specifically state that students with a D or F are not eligible for honor roll.

High schools would have an additional “superintendent honor roll” awarded near the end of the year for students with all A grades.

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