Sampson County Schools officials are making strides towards changing how the top students are recognized during graduation ceremonies.
For many months, feelings have been expressed regarding a proposal to eliminate valedictorians and salutatorians at high schools and use the Latin Honors system instead. The purpose is to recognize more students for their academic achievements, the same way as colleges do using Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude distinctions.
“We realize that it’s a huge paradigm shift,” said Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy. “We’ve been doing val and sal forever. When you do a paradigm shift like this, it takes time. We’re not asking for any decisions today. Let’s keep talking about it.”
During previous discussions, questions emerged from members of the Board of Education, but some of them may have been answered after a presentation by Counselor Taylor DeLeone and Col. Tommy Macon, assistant superintendent for academics and student services. Both are members of a committee formed to establish details in the case of a Latin System being implemented. Group members include principals, counselors, teachers and board members.
“I think the committee did a thorough job,” Macon said. “They worked some long hours and they got all the teachers involved at their schools.”
With the exception of Hobbton, representatives from Lakewood, Midway Sampson Early College and Union high schools were in favor of an option of using Cum Laude (3.7 to 3.99 GPA), Magna Cum Laude (4.0 to 4.2 GPA) and Summa Cum Laude (4.3 GPA or higher). DeLeone said school officials selected this option because the GPA selection method would include rigorous classes.
Members of the Hobbton district wanted to use the percentage of top students instead of GPAs. This means students ranked in the top 5 percent would be Summa Cum Laude, followed by 15 percent for Magna Cum Laude and 25 percent for Cum Laude.
“Hobbton High School was very adamant about using percentages,” DeLeone said regarding different populations at schools.
DeLeone alluded to how the GPA method gives students a clearer understand of reaching a goal, instead of just top percentages.
“When you tell a student to reach a bar, they’re going to rise to it,” DeLeone said.
Some of the other topics involved a selection process for junior marshals, award ceremonies and picking the top 10 seniors. Another important matter was determining who would make speeches. DeLeone said committee members were in favor of picking students in the Summa Cum Laude pack first. If no one wants to speak at this group, someone from the Magna Cum Laude group will be selected.
As an alternative, committee members made a suggestion to let the graduating student body vote for Summa speakers. DeLeone said this method may eliminate conflicts when it comes to selecting one student over another, especially when they’re on even playing fields.
None of the schools were in favor of using a hybrid option of Latin Honors, valedictorians and salutatorians.
“We just feel that there’s a strong bias when picking val and sal,” DeLeone said.
One of the options also included using SAT and ACT scores to break a tie, but one of the obstacles involved students not taking one particular test.
“This was one thing that I was not comfortable doing because I know at my school, we have problems with students paying for the ACT and SAT,” DeLeone said while addressing fairness. “Their junior and senior year is expensive anyway and when you’re talking about high poverty rates, they don’t have the money to take that test eight times. Whereas someone at another school, they may have that option to take it eight times.”
The committee for the Latin Honors system made a suggestion to begin the system with class of 2019. Board member Sonya Powell made a suggestion to begin with students who are now eighth graders, instead of current freshmen, since they are uncertain about how they’ll be honored during graduation. Macon said the committee may explore the request.
Board member Telfair Simpson added that options presented were very informative.
“It makes a lot more sense now,” Simpson noted
Board Chairman Dewain Sinclair and Bracy commended the committee for their efforts as well.
“We’re ahead of everybody else when it comes to talking about this,” Bracy said regarding Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in the state. “Most are not having this conversation yet, so we’re ahead of the game.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.