Sampson board to nix Latin system proposal for graduation

By: By Chase Jordan -

After having many debates on honoring Sampson County students through a Latin system similar to colleges, district leaders have decided to go in another direction.

During a Tuesday work session, the Sampson County Schools Board of Education came to a consensus to not use the method which uses Cum Laude (with praise), Magna Cum Laude (with great praise) and Summa Cum Laude (with highest honor). Instead, board members would like to stick with having one valedictorian, one salutatorian and recognizing 10 seniors at the top of the class. A new possible change will include identifying students who came close to 10th place using “Honors of Distinction” cords.

At previous meetings, Col. Tommy Macon, assistant superintendent for academics and student services, presented the Latin idea after a 10-point grading scale was implemented throughout North Carolina. This means a 90 to 100 is an A and 80 to 89 is a B. There is no plus or minus augmented scales. Macon said it presents conflicts when it comes to breaking ties between students, especially when it comes to honors and college-level Advanced Placement (AP) courses. As an example, GPAs from recent seniors, with tied or small differences in percentage totals, were showed to the board. Also, Macon also believes it’s a good way to recognize more students during commencement ceremonies.

Meetings were at high schools throughout the district with students and teachers. After receiving the feedback, Vice Chair Kim Schmidlin felt that the addition of the Latin system had credibility.

Board Member Timothy Register continued his stance against implementing Latin honors, especially after hearing criticism about the idea from the public. He went on to say that a lot of students are being recognized already during graduations, through things such as honor societies.

“At the graduation exercises this year, if you stopped and counted how many students were recognized, I would probably say to you that over half of the senior class stood at one point or another to receive some type of recognition, which is a great thing,” Register said.

Register believes the honor of being recognized is being diluted with additions and takes attention away from top 10 students. Board members Dewain Sinclair, Patrick Usher and Tracy Dunn were also in favor of recognizing valedictorians and salutatorians, top students and adding cords for the Latin system.

Board Member Mary Brown added to Register’s point by mentioning how graduation-type ceremonies begin at childhood, so it may become less significant. Register said even teachers have complaints regarding attire at ceremonies.

“When the staff wears academic attire, everyone gets to wear a hood,” Register said. “But not everyone gets to wear a hood, it’s only supposed to be for a master’s degree. But we continue to do those things, so there is no honor to work for anymore.”

Register continued to express how the Latin honor should take place in college and said it’s watering down high standards and challenges in education.

“It should be be something special that they have to work towards,” he said.

There was an agreement to develop a tiebreaker system determined on the third and fourth year of school. But when it came to the challenge of having a set Latin system throughout the district, different AP classes offered in schools was questioned. Register conveyed how one high school student may take harder AP courses than another student, but they’ll both end up with Magna Cum Laude distinctions.

“You’re giving them a false sense of achievement,” Register said. “You may be saying they’re the highest in their class, but they’re not taking nearly the rigor that a kid did at another school.”

The changes are set to place with the class of 2019. Schmidlin said rising juniors need to know what the system is.

“If they’re competing for number one, they need to understand how to achieve that,” she said.

As an example, she added that it’s important for students to understand that they need to finish with a 99 and not a 90.

“I think that’s clarity that students and parents are waiting on from us,” Schmidlin said.

Macon agreed, since it’s been a couple years without a set plan in place.

“This is what they want, some guidance,” he said referring to the class of 2019. “They’re going to be in their third year now.”

While the board made a choice for the Latin system, Schmidlin brought up her discussions with a competitive student ranked second in her class, who wanted her peers to receive recognition through a blended system.

“Not all students get cords,” she said. “There’s students who have the classroom achievement with rigor, but they do not have cords.”

Although feedback meetings were held at high schools in the district, Register said the answers of having more students recognized was predictable.

“It’s not a situation where you listen to what the parents and children want you to do,” Register said. “It’s what you do that is right for your system and the integrity of education.”

For the cord recognition, the board came to an agreement to use cords for students tied or following the 10th place spot. Register alluded to how it may be one cord too many, but some other board members said it was a good solution to recognize additional students.

“They worked hard for 12 years,” Dunn said.

The board is scheduled to approve a final policy for honoring seniors during its next meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, at the Sampson County Board of Education Auditorium, 437 Rowan Road, Clinton.

Sampson County Schools Board members Tracy Dunn and Telfair Simpson discuss graduation matters during a work session. County Schools Board members Tracy Dunn and Telfair Simpson discuss graduation matters during a work session.

By Chase Jordan