Instead of just recognizing the valedictorian and salutatorian at graduation ceremonies, Sampson County education officials would like to see more students honored. However, important issues and concerns must be addressed first.
During a Tuesday work session, the Sampson County Schools Board of Education received a request to start a committee to examine the benefits and disadvantages of using a Latin System to honor students with titles of Cum Laude (3.5 to 3.7 GPA); Magna Cum Laude (3.8 to 3.9 GPA) and Summa Cum Laude (4.0 GPA or higher). Every school will be represented in the group.
“We’ll have principals, counselors, teachers and parents on the committee as a composition,” said Tommy Macon,assistant superintendent for academics and student services. “We’ll have representation of all our stakeholders and the board is welcomed to join the committee.”
Some of the questions presented by making involved selecting the speakers, award ceremonies and determining who are the top ten seniors. Last year, he presented the idea of replacing the valedictorian and salutatorian system. Whatever the outcome is for the meeting, Macon said he’ll support it 100 percent.
If approved, freshmen graduating in 2019 will be the first under the Latin System. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will operate under the Val and Sal process. Also, the existing system honors the top 10 seniors.
Another reason behind the change is a new 10 point grading scale, which eliminates the pluses and minuses, which was implemented by school officials. Therefore, an A is 90 to 100 and a student who earns a 99 will earn the same grade as a student with a 91. Macon says this creates conflict when it comes to picking the valedictorian and salutatorian. He referred to it as the bunching effect.
“At some point, it gets kind of outlandish trying to determine who’s going to be number one in the class,” Macon said.
To show his point, Macon shared ninth-grade class rankings from the county high schools, as of Feb. 8. At Hobbton High School, the top student had a 4.6 GPA, but the next six students were tied at 4.5. Nine students at Midway were ranked first with 4.5 GPAs. Currently, the conflict is a little less severe at Sampson Early College High School, with only two students ranked first, with 4.5 GPAs.
“Not as bad, but you got some decisions to make,” Macon said.
Several board members chimed in on the matter and questioned if a hybrid of the Latin and Val/Sal systems be used. Board member Kim Schmidlin believes that students should be honored for their work and not grouped in with other students who made a lower grade.
“We should be recognizing them and encouraging academic excellence,” she said.
As mentioned before, Macon said there’s only a slight difference between the top students.
“It’s gets pretty challenging to make sure that we got it right,” Macon said. “Can we do it, absolutely, but you got to take the risk of making a mistake and not recognizing somebody, the way they should be recognized. We’ve had mistakes in the past.”
Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy said the district is at this point because of the grading scale and pluses and minuses being removed from the equation, making the val/sal a problematic process.
“I think the trend will be to eliminate val and sal,” Bracy said. “Most of the superintendents I talk to across the state are having conversations about eliminating or removing val and sal.”
Bracy believes the committee will be a win-win for everybody. The group will make a recommendation for the board to review.
Board member Glenn Tart questioned if the selected participants will be one-sided on the matter.
“If we’re going to have someone on the committee that’s all for it, why have a committee?” he inquired.
Bracy said the district will have to rely on their principals who are on the fence with an open mind.
“I think that’s the only way we can approach it,” Bracy said.
Macon added that guidance counselors should be included in the process, since they work closely with students to make sure they’re successful in school. Board member Faye Gay said principals would also like to have questions regarding the process. Sonya Powell, vice chairman, said it’s a timely manner since the students they’re discussing are already in high school.
“They need to know what direction things are headed for them before graduation,” Powell said. “In fact, it would’ve been great if they known before coming to high school.”
Under the Latin system, Bracy said the graduation ceremonies may have a college-like feel, since many universities use it.
“More kids will be recognized, instead of just one or two,” Bracy said.
After the discussions, there was a consensus from the board for Macon to form the committee.
“I think it’s the right move to have people at the grassroots make this decision,” said Mary Brown, board member. “We all various opinions, but we’re not there everyday.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.