Val, sal revamp coming

Chase Jordan / Sampson Independent Dr. Steven Miller, principal of Clinton High School, addresses the city Board of Education earlier this week.

Clinton City Schools leaders are changing the way students are recognized for their academic achievements during graduation time.

During a Monday evening meeting, school officials approved the implementation of the Latin system of recognition based on weighted grade point averages. It includes: Summa Cum Laude (4.5 or higher GPA); Magna Cum Laude (4.0 to 4.49); and Cum Laude (3.75 to 3.99 GPA). This will add to the valedictorian and salutatorian process, which some board members wanted to eliminate. The changes will begin with the class of 2019 — the upcoming 2015-16 freshmen.

After the recommendation to use the Latin and eliminate the use of a valedictorian and salutatorian was presented by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Duckworth, the idea was initially rejected by a 2-4 vote. Board members Randall Barefoot and Diane Viser were in favor it. Chairman Jason Walters, Vice Chairwoman Carol Worley and members E.R. Mason and Georgina Zeng felt differently about the matter.

The issue was discussed during previous meetings with Clinton High School principal Dr. Steven Miller who called for eliminating “the game” that often evolves. Some of the discussion was based on creating healthy academic competition, decreasing the social stress of not making the top Val or Sal list and picking courses focused on class rank.

On Monday night, Barefoot agreed it was a great idea, something he had also done at previous work sessions.

“It angers me that students and/or parents play the game with the GPA,” Barefoot said during Monday’s meeting. “I think it’s a good stride in letting our community know that the board is doing what’s best for the kids and not what’s best for the GPA.”

Other board members wanted to eliminate the game, but keep the title. After the motion failed, Barefoot said a title does not represent what a true person is.

“It’s just a title, it doesn’t signify what that kid is,” Barefoot said.

Next, the final motion was made to use the Latin system and to continue to recognize students as valedictorian and salutatorian. That motion passed by a vote of 4-2, with Barefoot and Zeng casting the opposing votes.

Miller said he felt that a hybrid combination allows the most challenging part of the argument to remain. According to the school’s research, about half of high schools are moving away from selecting valedictorians and salutatorians. Trends and research also show that scholarship applications have been adjusted to decrease in high school ranking selectivity.

“It’s not that we want to eliminate fair and healthy competition, which is a part of life; it’s the fact that we want to eliminate the game and not the title,” Walters said while asking Miller about the process.

Miller said it’s something schools officials are always working towards.

“As hard as we work to create an academically rigorous and comprehensive course of study at the high school, we inherently bring in more facets of the game,” Miller said.

One example included where a student took a course with no credit because it would not have an impact on his GPA, versus a student who took a risky and challenging course in the spring. Time frames and calculating grades for college applications was another issue.

“We would see some of this go away becuase we’re creating more opportunities for more students by pushing them and inverting that pyramid,” Miller said. “We’re going to have more students in that category vying for those upper level (courses).”

Zeng wanted to take away the titles from the process during graduation time. She alluded to just recognizing the amount of students in each academic category as a whole and leaving out individual recognitions.

“If you take away the titles, you can just work on the child and how well rounded he or she can be,” Zeng said.

Miller noted that is sounds good from an altruistic level, but he believes it would lower the rigor.

“My concern at Clinton High School at this point is that we would then not provide the appropriate motivating factors to get to the point where students are really looking for those levels,” Miller said.