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Schools could rework class rankings, replace valedictorian and salutatorian honors

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – Rowan-Salisbury Schools could follow the lead of a number of colleges and other districts in removing valedictorian and salutatorian honors in favor of only latin honors and class rankings throughout the district.

If the change is approved at the board’s next business meeting on Feb. 24, the district would only instead classify students who meet certain GPA thresholds at graduation as summa, magna or cum laude. But the change would not totally eliminate class rankings. Rankings would still be listed on student transcripts, but the change was brought due to concerns that valedictorian and salutatorian titles can negatively impact the education of students, leading to high-achieving students to pursue classes they otherwise would not simply to boost their GPAs.

The board added latin honors in 2017 but kept the valedictorian and salutatorian titles. If approved, the policy change would not take effect until next school year.

At the school board’s Monday work session meeting, several board members expressed concern the change could take away opportunities from some top-achieving students, but Chief Legal Officer April Kuhn said most colleges and universities now take a comprehensive approach to admissions and merit scholarship awards that do not take valedictorian and salutatorian status into account.

After confirming high-ranked students would have accomplishments listed on transcripts, which are sent to colleges and universities as part of the admissions process, board member Dean Hunter said he questioned the importance of the titles other than esteem and history.

The first paragraph of the proposed policy change reads “Class rankings are one method of measuring academic performance. The board also recognizes other means of evaluating student achievement, including grade point average, courses completed, rigor of curriculum, results of tests and assessments and recommendation letters.”

Valedictorians and salutatorians often speak at graduation ceremonies. Rather than have those students speak, schools could ask the highest-ranked students at a school, the top 10 for instance, to speak. Some schools in the district already do not tap valedictorian and salutatorians to speak exclusively.

The board also received some budget updates from CFO Carol Herndon at Monday’s meeting. Herndon said the district can expect to receive state funding in a lump sum as it has for the past two years as part of renewal.

Instead of sending a written budget message to the county commissioners for local funding, the district is looking at making a presentation to commissioners instead. The budget process has already begun, with a retreat for the Board of Education possibly coming in March and a finalized budget to be presented to the board in August.

“We will want to bring that budget message to you to approve at the March 23 meeting, again because we’re not together with you until the end of April, which would be past the April 17 day that the budget message is actually due to the county,” Herndon said.

Herndon said the hope would be to meet face-to-face with the commissioners between the end of April and early May to explain the district’s budget needs.

Included in Herndon’s presentation were continuing with the three-year phase in of the recommendations from a 2017 salary study — adding more school nurses and behavioral specialists.

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