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Pasco closer to dropping valedictorian title

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A proposal to eliminate the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian for Pasco County high schools moved a step closer to reality Tuesday in a unanimous vote by the Pasco County School Board.

The change still must be voted on a second time Aug. 5 before taking effect.

Under the proposed revisions in the district’s student progression plan, the top two graduates in senior classes would still hold those titles for the next three years, but beginning with the class of 2018 valedictorians and salutatorians would no longer be recognized, although class rankings would still exist.

Although the proposal passed by a 4-0 vote on first reading, two board members — Allen Altman and Steve Luikart — left open the possibility they could change their votes by the final decision.

“I still have mixed emotions,” said Altman, whose daughter was a salutatorian.

Luikart, the board’s vice chairman and a former educator, said he leans toward eliminating the two designations, but remains open minded on the change until the final vote.

Board Chairwoman Alison Crumbley was absent.

Just one person spoke during the public hearing on the proposed changes to the student progression plan.

Richard Penbirthy of Wesley Chapel read a letter from his daughter, Corttney, who was the Wesley Chapel High valedictorian in 2007. She urged the board to reconsider, saying the titles are more than mere labels.

Just as some students compete and strive in other areas of high school life, those who seek to become valedictorian or salutatorian strive to succeed academically, she wrote.

She described it as an “arduous task,” but one that it well worth it, noting that some colleges award scholarships to students who hold the titles.

A district committee recommended the change and the school board first discussed the proposal at a June 3 workshop.

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.

The committee, which included teachers, district administrators, school administrators, students and parents, also had concerns that the system was not always fair. For example, a student could earn more points for a dual enrollment class than an Advanced Placement class. That fact helped drive class-scheduling decisions for some students.

Instead of valedictorians and salutatorians, schools would be encouraged to use the Latin designations cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude that would give more seniors the opportunity to be recognized at commencement ceremonies for their high-achieving academic performances.

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