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BOE to recommend amendment to graduation honors policy

September 01, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Board of Education committee will recommend the school board amend its graduation honors policy so the valedictorian and salutatorian are given the first options — at all county public high schools — to provide commencement speeches, school board officials said.

All three members of the board’s Policy Committee said they agreed on that recommendation. Board President Justin Hartings and board members Jacqueline Fischer and Karen Harshman serve on the committee.

If the valedictorian and/or salutatorian doesn’t want to give a speech at graduation, the honor would be passed to the student with the third highest grade-point average, and so on, down the GPA list, said Fischer, who chairs the Policy Committee.

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox asked the committee to review the graduation honors policy after he received a complaint because Washington County Technical High School’s valedictorian was not chosen to give a graduation speech at the school’s June 4 ceremony.

Tech High’s policy, since about 2006, has been to hold auditions among those seniors with the top six grade-point averages, Principal Jeff Stouffer said previously.

Stouffer said Thursday that he didn’t want to comment for this story because he hadn’t received official word of the committee’s recommendation.

Stouffer said previously that when the decision was made to hold auditions for commencement speakers, the school system didn’t have a systemwide policy specifying the top two students had to speak, and he had seen a trend in the Tri-State area and across the country moving away from having the valedictorian and salutatorian speak.

Fischer said the committee also is recommending that the principal or the principal’s designee have the right to determine the length of the speech and approve the speech before its presentation.

Fischer said that approving the speech is about making sure there is no foul or offensive language, but not to change the student’s message or the “meat” of the speech.

Jessan Groenendyk, the board’s student representative, had talked to other students about which students should speak at graduation and discussed that feedback at the Aug. 27 committee meeting, Fischer said.

Groenendyk said the students wanted the valedictorian and salutatorian to be the speakers.

The policy also calls for continuing to use grade-point averages at the end of the third marking period to determine rankings for the commencement ceremony, Fischer said.

Stouffer has said that, when Tech High’s speaker policy was changed, there also was discussion about the fact that Tech High had printed graduation programs listing the valedictorian and salutatorian speakers, and when the final grades came in, one of those students no longer was the valedictorian or salutatorian. But the students named in the program still spoke as such, he said.

Stouffer has said that has happened at other schools, too.

Fischer said leaving the cutoff at the third marking period gives the two students time to write a speech and get it approved, and changed, if necessary.

It also provides time for graduation programs to be compiled and printed, she said.

Hartings said he prefers to use the grades at the end of the final marking period.

The students with the highest GPAs probably know they are in the running to speak and, given their talent and work ethic, would be able to put together a great speech in the four or five days between when grades are due and the ceremony, Hartings said.

Harshman said she had suggested using the interim report, between the ends of the third and fourth marking periods, but was told those weren’t official grades.

Harshman said using the final grades would be “ridiculous” because there wouldn’t be enough time for teachers to get the grades in and then have the students write their “best effort” and have it approved by the administration.

Groenendyk said he had not spoken to students about the GPA cutoff, to determine academic rankings for who speaks at graduation.

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