Monday, May 28, 2018
Education

Pasco superintendent privately wavers on plan to eliminate valedictorians

Viewers of the conservative Fox and Friends national news show have a message for Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning: Don't do away with valedictorians.

"You are sending the wrong message to our youth," Mike Hall of New Port Richey wrote to Browning after a Saturday segment on the superintendent's proposal. "Excellence should be recognized. I would rather hire a smart person as any employer will tell you. … This sounds like the liberal left wing thinking."

Gina Seidel, who did not include where she lived, went even further.

"Maybe (you) just want dumbed down, stupid students or maybe your teachers suck and can't teach," she wrote. "Americans are sick and tired of people like you. YOU ARE A DISGRACE!!!"

The attacks prompted some soul searching by the superintendent, a Republican who is no stranger to controversy. He has faced criticism over his plans to close an alternative center serving a poor community in east Pasco and his mandate that football coaches end sideline team prayers, among other issues.

Sometimes he's held firm. Other times, he's backed off.

His favorite saying when easing off the throttle is, "The juice isn't worth the squeeze." That's what Browning expressed in a Sunday night journal entry he sent to his mentor, retired Seminole County superintendent Bill Vogel.

In it, Browning talked about his thought process in eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian titles at high schools while retaining class ranks and adding the Latin honors of summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude to commencement ceremonies. The idea, he suggested, is to give more students incentives to excel, because they would have more opportunities for recognition.

The change also would take into consideration the many types of classes students take, some of which don't provide course grades in a time frame that allows for fair and proper grade-point calculations.

But the naysayers have painted the district's position as akin to giving everyone a participation trophy while trying to avoid the few parents and students who want to fight over who's No. 1. Fox and Friends anchor Clayton Morris spoke about "whitewashing our academic standards."

Hitting closer to home, Chuck Isbell of Tallahassee suggested in his email: "Crap let's just take the National Championships away from the Gators. I will let you tell Coach (Billy) Donovan that (one)."

Browning, who is out of state on vacation, indicated that he may be wavering ahead of the final hearing before the School Board on Aug. 12.

"Many of the emails that I have received have been very hateful and demeaning yet I know in my heart that it's the right thing to do," he wrote to Vogel. "Over the coming weeks, I will need to decide to either hunker down and fight the battle or find an exit strategy that saves face for the School Board and me. I want to do what's right for our students and families."

Vogel responded that restraint might be best.

"You have tackled some tough issues. This is one that, as you suggest, might be one to back off on," he wrote.

Browning has not made a final decision. But School Board members, also barraged by Fox viewers, have started putting his recommendation under even closer scrutiny.

Chairwoman Alison Crumbley said she did not believe the proposal would dumb down the system, but she also did not see how simply voiding the valedictorian and salutatorian titles while keeping class ranks would make a major difference. The district policy already provides for Latin honors, although many schools simply ignore them.

If the problem arises from perceived unfairness in grade-point calculations, she said, the district should address those rules instead.

No changes to the calculations appear in the superintendent's proposal.

Board vice chairman Steve Luikart had similar questions about how the changes would be implemented. Without more details and explanations, he said, "I can't vote on it the way it is now."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18