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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Pasco superintendent plans to revisit academic honors issue

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Although Superintendent Kurt Browning has changed his mind about recommending elimination of valedictorian and salutatorian designations for Pasco County high schools, that doesn’t mean the issue is filed away forever.

Browning released a statement Tuesday night saying the Pasco school district will revisit the matter for 2015-16 by putting together a panel of academic experts who will examine the district’s current practices for recognizing top-performing students and make recommendations for improvements.

“I want Pasco principals, school leaders and teachers to know that I still think changing how we honor our best and brightest is the right thing to do,” Browning said. “I believe there is a better way to recognize the highest achievers, encourage more students to strive for excellence, and eliminate the practice of recognizing only two students per school each year.

“Let me be very clear, though; I in no way advocate ‘giving a trophy to every student.’ ”

That was one of the criticisms hurled at Browning after the initial school board vote July 1 on revising the student progression plan to eliminate valedictorians and salutatorians beginning with the class of 2018. High schools would have been encouraged instead to use the Latin designations cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude to recognize more students with high grade-point averages.

Initially, the backlash was limited and just one person spoke against the plan at the July 1 public hearing. But the issue was picked up by the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” and that generated about 30 emails to the district, mostly opposing it, Browning said.

He said the show “mischaracterized the reasons for the recommendation.”

At a June school board workshop, Browning and district staff members had said the valedictorian/salutatorian tradition had become overly competitive, with angry parents complaining when a child was edged out, sometimes by a hundredth of a percentage point. Also, students often selected classes based on how well a course would improve their weighted grade-point averages rather than what was best for them academically.

Browning said he decided to change his recommendation and keep valedictorians and salutatorians -- at least for now -- after discussing the issue with community members, staff members, and current and former eductors.

The academic panel that will tackle the issue in the coming year will look at such factors as state laws, state Board of Education rules, how the district designates which courses receive extra weight for grade-point averages and how guidance counselors verify student credits.

In the meantime, Browning still plans to encourage high schools to use the Latin designations to recognize honor students, and principals will have latitude on how valedictorians and salutatorians are recognized at graduation and who gets to speak during commencement ceremonies.

rblair@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1853

Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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