Rowan-Salisbury school board agrees not to toss valedictorian, salutatorian titles

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education spent nearly an hour Monday night hashing out whether or not to do away with valedictorian and salutatorian titles for future students.

The issue is one that was first brought up by high school principals at the board’s April 24 business meeting. Principals requested that the board amend a district policy on class rankings, citing concern that students were making scheduling decisions based on their desire to be valedictorian or salutatorian instead of choosing classes that would help them succeed in their careers.

During public comment, speakers had a lot to say about the proposed change.

Heather Altizer and Paula Juchno said they feel students should be honored for their achievements. Altizer said valedictorians and salutatorians had proved that they are highly motivated and have an ability to plan long-term, and that should be rewarded.

“I challenge this board to raise the bar, not toss the bar off to the side,” she said.

Juchno said she thinks the system has been “dumbed down” enough. Students who achieve academic honors rarely get public acknowledgement for their work, she added.

“I’m so aggravated,” she said. “…Where’s the problem? You know, not everybody gets a trophy.”

But one former student spoke in favor of doing away with the titles. Stephen Page, a graduate of Salisbury High School, said he saw many students at school who took online AP classes they were not interested in. The students did well in the class but “bombed” the AP exam, he said.

“I do, however, believe in competition,” he said.

He suggested ranking students by percentile, honoring the top 3 or top 5 percent, which would still encourage students to push themselves.

However, board members questioned whether removing the designations would really make any difference, as class rankings on transcripts are mandated by the state Board of Education.

“How does removing valedictorian and salutatorian prohibit … the same thing from happening that we’ve been told needs to be rectified? …How does that keep students from pursuing courses that aren’t really relevant to what they want to do?” Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox asked.

April Kuhn, chief legal officer for the school system, said eliminating the titles would not eliminate the spirit of competition but it could redirect it.

“If that designation is gone … they may be more apt to focus on what’s next for their career versus chasing that title,” she said.

The school system hopes to implement a Latin honors system similar to those used by colleges and universities.

“I think we would be better serving children if we were honoring those who have met a certain threshold,” said Eisa Cox, director of secondary education.

However, board members still were not convinced.

“How does name eradication change that self-imposed created contest?” board member Richard Miller said.

Board member Travis Allen said he supports the titles, saying that students make a choice. Some choose to make decisions based on their careers, and some choose to strive for the title. Neither is bad, he said.

“It’s not always the best team that wins the ballgame,” he said.

Allen added that he has no issue recognizing large groups of students with a Latin honors system, but he said the top titles should remain.

Allen made a motion to direct staff to amend the class ranking policy to keep valedictorian or salutatorian as well as to incorporate a Latin honors system.

Board member Dean Hunter said he didn’t “feel comfortable” with the discussion of eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian.

“There seems more to it than what I’m hearing,” he said.

However, Allen’s motion seemed a good compromise, and he agreed other students need to be honored beyond the top two.

“Is there any reason why they would argue against each other? It seems like you’re getting the best of both worlds,” he said.

The board voted 5-2 to amend the policy — keeping the rankings while adding a Latin honors system. Board members Hunter, Byrd, Allen, Cox and Josh Wagner voted in favor of the motion. Board members Kennedy and Miller voted against it.

Staff will amend the class rankings policy according to the motion and bring it back for a second reading and approval June 5.

The board will meet at 5 p.m. June 5 in the Wallace Educational Forum board room, 500 N. Main St. Public comment will be at 6 p.m.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved the sale of the district’s laptops and iPads to PowerHouse Recycling for $4.5 million.
  • Voted to name Michael Courtwright as the principal of Knox Middle School. Courtwright is currently principal at Hanford Dole Elementary. He will serve at Knox with Deputy Principal Christopher McNeil.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.