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School board ponders new ways to honor top graduates

Mary Carter.jpg

Mary Carter


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Pitt County Board of Education is considering modifying its long-standing practice of recognizing the highest-achieving graduates at its high schools as salutatorian and valedictorian.

Information presented at the board’s monthly work session on Monday sparked discussion about whether to replace the valedictorian and salutatorian title — which recognizes the highest and second-highest grade point average earners, respectively — with the Latin system many colleges and a growing number of high schools are adopting. 

Many members of the board expressed support for the system, which recognizes Cum Laude (3.75-3.99 GPA), Magna Cum Laude (4.0-4.249 GPA) and Summa Cum Laude (4.25 GPA or higher) because it would allow more recognition for other high-achieving students. The challenge now is what to do with the current system. 

Mary Carter, director of grades 9-12 for Pitt County Schools, said the school board could decide to keep the current system, phase in the Latin system starting with the sophomore class or implement a dual system where the two highest-achieving students are recognized as valedictorian and salutatorian while others are recognized under the Latin system. The last option could be implemented as early as next year.

The dual system seemed to gain the most favor from board members, who technically do not have to vote on the matter because it is a procedure and not a policy change. Regardless, the matter is only under consideration.

“I would not be opposed with a dual system with the idea in mind that that might be the system that’s best for Pitt County Schools,” board member Benjie Forrest said. “The other system might win out in the consciousness in the community or the new system may. I would not be receptive to the assumption that we are automatically planning on phasing one out over time.”

Carter presented the board with a list of considerations including that class rank would not be affected by the change as it is a state mandate and scholarships require class rank information only. 

She also detailed some advantages of the Latin system, such as it honors a wider array of students’ academic accomplishments and that colleges, universities and the general public are often more familiar with Latin honors. 

“The more people we can celebrate because of their excellence, it’s making our system look good,” Chairwoman Mildred Council said. 

All members agreed with the notion of honoring more students who may have fallen just short of valedictorian-salutatorian status or who may have taken different academic pathways. 

Carter said that sometimes the pressures of trying to reach the highest or second-highest GPA can negatively affect a student’s performance because of the course load required to do so. 

Board member Anna Barrett Smith called the valedictorian-salutatorian system a “rat race,” and said she would like to see it done away with. However, she said her public polling has revealed that 90 percent of people prefer the traditional system.

“I’d love to see it go away,” Smith said. “I’m going to continue to do some polling, but I was shocked. I thought there would be more support to get away from it because of how stressed out their children were.” 

Carter’s presentation also featured a list of what other nearby counties are doing in regard to the class rankings titles. Greene County and Craven County currently maintain the valedictorian-salutatorian status while Nash-Rocky Mount Schools will implement the Latin system in 2018-19.

Martin County Schools has opted to maintain the valedictorian-salutatorian status while using the Latin system and a rubric to break any ties.

School board members will need to decide how exactly to implement a new system, if they so choose, and will have flexibility in doing so. 

Regardless of the conversation, the board would have to come to a formal consensus on the procedural change before it is taken into effect and it would not affect the upcoming graduating class.

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.