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Hernando County School Board decides to stick with current method of recognizing top graduates

Hernando County school officials agreed that changing the selection date for academic designations would play havoc with writing and approving commencement speeches and there would be less time to print commencement programs.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Hernando County school officials agreed that changing the selection date for academic designations would play havoc with writing and approving commencement speeches and there would be less time to print commencement programs.

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County high schools will continue to select valedictorians and salutatorians after the first semester of students' senior year.

School Board members on Tuesday discussed the possibility of moving the selection date for the academic designations, given to the students with the top two grade-point averages, to the end of the school year or to the midway point of the second semester.

The goal: to give a more accurate reflection of a student's final grade-point average.

Several board members indicated that, ideally, they would like to determine valedictorians and salutatorians at the end of the senior year, taking into account the latest grades. But doing so would be problematic, district officials told board members.

Students taking dual-enrollment courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College don't receive their spring semester grades until shortly before school ends for seniors, making it difficult to include that data. Also, students applying for early college admission are sometimes required to submit their class rank. Writing and approving commencement speeches also would be more difficult. Administrators would have less time to print commencement programs.

Board member Dianne Bonfield was the strongest supporter of moving the decision date to later in the year.

In August, she said, she was contacted by family members of two students who would have been salutatorians last spring had their grades from beyond the first semester been included. Since that's not how Hernando determines the designations, the district ended up with two salutatorians who had lower GPAs than those students, Bonfield said.

"I think we owe it to our students to be as accurate as we possibly can for our valedictorians and salutatorians," Bonfield said.

The Pasco and Pinellas school districts both make the determination after the first semester of the senior year. Hillsborough County freezes class rankings at a point during the second semester.

A few districts, including Martin County, where superintendent Lori Romano previously worked, made the decision at the end of the senior year.

The big difference: Martin County operates on a cum laude recognition system, which recognizes a larger group of top students.

Romano praised that method as more equitable.

She said the reason Martin moved to that system was that, with dual enrollment courses weighted more heavily, students were avoiding more rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.

"They took dual enrollment and ended up being the val and sal," she said. "So there was the inequity structure and the board voted to change that structure so we were recognizing students that had high GPAs."

Romano added later: "What you're trying to do is honor excellence. So you want to create the most equitable system to be able to do that."

Board Chairman Matt Foreman noted that the board recently had the val/sal discussion and decided not to go with a cum laude system.

"The general consensus of the board was: Why are we keeping score if we're not honoring someone at the top?" Foreman said. "I'm very okay with the idea that we're honoring two that have stepped ahead of the rest."

Romano countered: "But have they stepped ahead of the rest?"

Board member John Sweeney suggested trying out a system that included valedictorians and salutatorians as well as a cum laude system.

After the meeting, Romano said she liked that idea.

"I just want an equitable system," she said.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando County School Board decides to stick with current method of recognizing top graduates 11/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 6:52pm]
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