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Pasco School Board moves toward dropping top class honors

Aubrey Willis, Makayla Wilson, Nikki Wisniewski and Miranda Wooten wearing their personalized mortarboard while waiting to be seated at Pasco High School's graduation ceremony

Aubrey Willis, Makayla Wilson, Nikki Wisniewski and Miranda Wooten wearing their personalized mortarboard while waiting to be seated at Pasco High School's graduation ceremony

LAND O'LAKES — Who's No. 1?

That soon could become a well-kept secret in Pasco County high schools.

The School Board took a giant step Tuesday toward getting rid of valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions at graduations, replacing the titles with an honors-based award system. Class of 2018 students would earn the Latin designations of cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude based on their grade point averages.

Class rankings would continue, but the special privileges that come with the top two spots would disappear.

Pasco would be the second area school district to take such a step. Hernando County eliminated its graduation titles a year ago but reinstated them a short time later. The issue came up briefly in Pinellas County several years ago, but never got any traction. Hillsborough County is not considering a change.

Pasco board members suggested that superintendent Kurt Browning's idea, which he proposed to end cutthroat competition for class rank, seemed like a fair way to treat students and recognize their hard work. They gave it their initial blessing as part of the district's 2014-15 student progression plan.

"I don't see this as a detraction," board member Joanne Hurley said. "I see this as an enhancement to all the programs we have."

She noted the district provides students many types of courses, including dual enrollment and virtual classes, which count toward students' GPAs. The grades arrive at different times of the year, board member Cynthia Armstrong said, making it difficult to determine who really is the top student in the class when the list is set.

"If you could wait until mid summer when all the grades are in, you could have a very different result," Armstrong said.

One parent spoke against the idea during the board's public hearing. Rick Penberthy read a letter from his daughter, Corttney, the 2007 Wesley Chapel High valedictorian.

She said the superintendent's proposal would take away the sense of confidence and accomplishment a student can feel for achieving the goal of becoming valedictorian. She likened the competition to that of playing sports or running for election.

"Valedictorian and salutatorian are more than mere labels," Penberthy read from his daughter's letter. "They are ambition, sources of pride."

Board members said they appreciated the letter. Member Allen Altman, who has opposed eliminating the titles for eight years, said it gave him more ideas to think about in the weeks before the final vote.

"I am still gathering information," said Altman, whose daughter was salutatorian of Pasco High. "I still have more questions."

Board vice chairman Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal, said he was leaning toward backing the new concept.

Students need to learn to compete against themselves to be the best they can be, he said, and "not beat the guy who's next to you." Still, he left the door open on his final decision at a future meeting, too.

Some other parents and students have sent their views, which go both ways, with some supporting the "time-honored tradition" and others saying the change would "eliminate the unnecessary drama."

The board must have a final hearing before voting on the progression plan. If adopted, the valedictorian and salutatorian titles would be eliminated beginning with the freshman class entering this fall.

The Broward County School Board recently considered a similar idea, but decided against cutting the titles. It did add honors recognitions such as the ones Browning has proposed.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Pasco School Board moves toward dropping top class honors 07/01/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 8:40pm]
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