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City schools looking to revamp valedictorian policy
Proposed move adds numerical grading
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Gainesville High School is looking to change how and when it picks its valedictorian and salutatorian, a system that was challenged last school year in what was a bitter and divisive fight.

“We want to continue to look at (procedures) and talk to college professors and let them go through before we make it a final plan,” GHS Principal LaCrisia Larkin told the Gainesville City Board of Education during a Monday night work session.

Added lead counselor Tracey Wilson: “We are making sure we have our ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed before we roll this out.”

Among the most notable proposed changes is waiting until the second semester is finished before choosing the top student. The school now names the valedictorian and salutatorian after the end of the first semester of the graduating class’ senior year.

And starting with the 2014 class, the plan is to determine the final grade based on a numerical percentage as opposed to the current system using a grade-point average.

Early this year, school officials had selected two co-valedictorians, Cody Stephens and Charlie Bryant, but not publicly announced who they were because student grades are private.

Stephens’ parents protested the move, saying their son should be declared sole valedictorian and that he had the school’s highest grade-point average.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said at the time that the co-valedictorians boiled down to one student who earned A’s in every course credit for 36 units of credit and one who earned A’s in all but one course, which was a B, and took 31.5 course credits.

“This resulted in the difference in GPA being less than one one-hundredth of a point,” Dyer said. “Using the procedure in place, this results in a co-valedictorian.”

The school board later backed the decision in an executive session, with board Chairman Willie Mitchell as the lone dissenting vote.

Bryant and his family then stepped out publicly for the first time in the controversy and requested the community honor Stephens, who was believed to be the school’s first African-American valedictorian, and leave Bryant out of the recognition.

No conflicts are anticipated this year, said officials, but they are trying to give students enough head’s up so they can be prepared for possible changes.

As part of the move, high school-level classes taken at Gainesville Middle School will be considered — and encouraged — as part of the new calculation, Larkin said.

Board member Maria Calkins expressed concern that students might try to repeat a class when they reach high school to get a higher grade that would be counted toward the final percentage.

Dyer said, “The information we have now is there will be no option next year. Eighth-graders who take the course have to take the credit.”

Wilson said Advanced Placement courses will carry a higher numerical average than non-AP classes.

“They’re already weighted in the 4.0-scale,” she said. “In the numerical grading, there will be seven to 10 points added. We have talked to several schools in the area that have used this model and they’ve not had issues with the grading.”

Dyer said that overall, concerning new rules in the matter, she believes “the key is (providing) early information for the people who are in the running for this award.”

“That’s why I’ve asked (school officials) to get this policy in place for the following year soon and so the (school’s) Governance Council can see it and the parents of the students in the Class of ’14 can see it.”