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Washington County BOE approves first reading of change to commencement speech policy

Change would give valedictorians, salutatorians first chance

September 03, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

After much discussion Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Education voted 6-1 on first reading to change the graduation honors policy systemwide so that valedictorians and salutatorians would have the right to speak at their high school graduations.

The board also voted 6-1 to support having the grade-point averages used to determine top academic honors calculated at the end of the final marking period, and that the changes would go into effect with the 2014-2015 school year.

Currently, the GPAs for graduation honors are calculated at the end of the third marking period.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said many colleges award significant grants to students who are determined to be valedictorian.

It was Wilcox who asked the school board’s Policy Committee to review the graduation honors policy after he received a complaint that the 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, in effect since about 2006, has been to hold auditions among those seniors with the top six grade-point averages, Principal Jeff Stouffer has said.

Richard Magner, grandfather of Tech High’s 2013 valedictorian, said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting that he supports the committee’s proposed changes to give the valedictorian and salutatorian at all high schools the option to speak at graduation.

Magner said he wasn’t there for his granddaughter, but for those students who haven’t graduated yet.

The proposed policy amendment also states that if either the valedictorian or salutatorian choose not to speak, the student with the next highest GPA may speak, and so on down the academic rankings.

Majority approval of the proposed policy at a second reading, within about eight weeks, is needed for the policy changes to be approved.

Board member Wayne Ridenour voted against the proposal to give the valedictorian and salutatorian the first option to speak, saying after the meeting that he could still change his mind.

Although the board’s student representative, Jessan Groenendyk, provided  feedback on the issue to the Policy Committee last week, Ridenour said he wanted to hear what Tech High’s student representatives think about the proposed policy changes.

Ridenour said that in some ways he thinks schools can establish their own traditions.

County student government representatives were expected to meet Wednesday.

Board member Karen Harshman cast the sole vote against using the year-end GPA in calculating graduation honors and having the policy take effect starting in the next school year.

Harshman said using the final marking period grades doesn’t give students much time to prepare their speeches.

Wilcox said he had two concerns with a possible systemwide policy, citing the GPA cutoff — he prefers using the final marking period grades — and the “equality of opportunity” across schools.

Students go to Tech High at the start of their junior year, after taking courses during their freshman and sophomore years at their home school.

Not all high schools provide the same courses, Wilcox said.

In addition, he asked how could the school system make sure that, for example, Algebra II at one school is the same and as competitive a course as Algebra II at another school.

“But those are problems that school systems should wrestle with,” Wilcox said.

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