Friday, Sep 19, 2014
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Browning reverses top academic honors decision

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School Superintendent Kurt Browning is dropping his recommendation that the Pasco County School District eliminate the valedictorian and salutatorian designations for the top two graduates at each high school.

The school board was set to vote on the proposed change at its Aug. 12 meeting as part of the revised student progression plan, but the meeting agenda released Tuesday includes a memo from Browning saying he now proposes keeping the titles in place.

The original proposal to end the practice of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian led to a public outcry, especially after the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” picked up the story. Browning at one point described some of the emails he received as “very hateful and demeaning.”

The school board held its first public hearing on the change July 1, but that drew just one speaker, the father of a former Wesley Chapel High School valedictorian, who read a letter from his daughter urging the board to keep the valedictorian and salutatorian tradition alive.

The board’s initial vote was unanimous to eliminate the titles beginning with the class of 2018, although two board members — Steve Luikart and Allen Altman — left open the possibility they could change their minds before the final vote. Board Chairwoman Alison Crumbley was absent at that meeting.

Since then, Luikart has said he likely would change his vote, not so much because of any personal feelings, but because of feedback he has received from parents and students who like that the top two students receive special recognition.

“If the public wants it, I don’t have a problem with it,” Luikart said.

A district committee had recommended the change, which the school board first discussed at a June 3 workshop.

At that time, school officials described the valedictorian-salutatorian tradition as one that had gotten out of control and overly competitive, with students making course selections based on how well a class could boost their grade-point averages and angry parents paying a visit to the superintendent when a son or daughter lost out, sometimes by hundredths of a percentage point.

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