MOREHEAD CITY — There will be a big change when members of the county’s Class of 2019 take part in commencement exercises Friday, June 7 — there will be no valedictorians or salutatorians.
For the first time in county history, the three county public high schools will use a Latin honors graduation system similar to colleges to honor top academic students. Instead of a valedictorian and salutatorian, graduates with high grade point averages will be recognized as summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude.
Superintendent Mat Bottoms, in an email response sent Thursday to the News-Times, said the decision to change to the Latin system stems from legislative changes made to the state’s student grading system that took affect in the 2015-16 school year. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction switched from a 7-point grading system to a 10-point grading system. For example, an ‘A’ used to be based on scores from 93 to 100. Under the 10-point system, an ‘A’ is now between 90 to 100.
“Students who earned a 90 in a course received the same grade point as those students achieving a 100,” Mr. Bottoms said. “The number of potential ties for grade point average (GPA) increased greatly and thus, having a true number 1 or Valedictorian in the class was remote.
“In addition to the GPA changes, the state also reduced the bonus grade points for honors and advanced placement courses, and as with the grading changes, the unintended consequence was even more options for tied GPAs,” he said.
Mr. Bottoms said that to compensate for the changes and the perception of less rigor, the school system adopted the Latin honors designations and over the past four years has been monitoring the graduates’ grade point averages to establish high standards for each of the three levels that will be recognized.
The grade point average requirements for the graduation honors are: summa cum laude, 4.5 GPA; magna cum laude, 4.4 GPA; and cum laude, 4.3 GPA. Students must have a minimum of 32 credits to be eligible.
Seniors receiving the honors will be recognized with a certain color stole, including gold for summa cum laude, silver for magna cum laude and white for cum laude.
As for speeches traditionally given by valedictorians and salutatorians, each high school can decide who will give them. At Croatan High School, the top 10 seniors were invited to submit senior graduation speeches. Members of the English department will select the final speeches.
The trend of switching to Latin honors is picking up steam across the state and nation, with Wake County also switching to the Latin system this school year. Wake officials are allowing each high school to decide how to handle the recognitions. Some high schools are doing away with any type of stole recognition, while others are opting for a system similar to the one adopted by Carteret County.
For Wake schools that opt to recognize top academic seniors, the graduates with a weighted GPA of 4.25 or higher will receive the distinction summa cum laude. Those with a weighted GPA of 4.0 to 4.249 will get the distinction magna cum laude and those with a weighted GPA of 3.75 to 3.99 will receive the designation cum laude.
Neighboring Onslow and Craven County school districts still recognize valedictorians and salutatorians, according to the districts’ public information officers. However, Onslow County principals recommended making the switch, which was turned down by the Onslow County Board of Education, according to Will Laine, executive director of secondary education with the Onslow County school system.
“We looked at it, but our board felt strong about maintaining a valedictorian and salutatorian,” Mr. Laine said Thursday. “So far we haven’t run into a situation where multiple ties have been a problem.”
There was no official vote taken by the Carteret County Board of Education regarding the switch. Rather, it was an administrative decision based on input from the high schools’ three principals and graduation committees, according to Chief Academic Officer Heather Dietzler.
The only private high school in Carteret County, Gramercy Christian School in Newport, still recognizes valedictorian and salutatorian, according to a spokesperson.
County Board of Education Chairman Travis Day said the matter of switching has been discussed for the last few years and he originally was against the idea.
“When I first heard about this my gut reaction was I don’t like this, that is too big of an honor for our students. But the more I heard about it and thought about it, I came around,” Mr. Day said.
“Some of these students had been playing the GPA game since entering high school, doing anything to push to the highest GPA possible,” he continued. “That meant some of these top students weren’t taking classes like chorus or band that they would benefit from because they wouldn’t get as high a GPA.”
Mr. Day added that he likes the idea of more high-achieving students receiving recognition.
“I don’t favor going to a system where our top students don’t receive recognition. People who work hard should be recognized. I want people to understand we aren’t going to the ‘every child gets a trophy’ system. We want our top students to still be recognized,” Mr. Day said.
Parent Danielle Merrell, who has a senior graduating from CHS this year, said she understood the reason for the switch.
“I personally don’t have a problem with it,” Ms. Merrell said. “I knew it had to do with the point system.”
CHS senior J.P. McLean said, he, too understood the reason for the change.
“I understand this is more about competing with yourself rather than others and it allows more students to be recognized. I do like that,” Mr. McLean said.
CHS Principal Kay Zimarino said she also agreed with the switch.
“I’m excited about it,” Ms. Zimarino said. “They’re (seniors) competing more against themselves and this aligns our system more with the college system. We have more students taking college courses now while in high school, and it really just makes sense.”
Principals at East Carteret and West Carteret high schools did not respond to an email request from the News-Times.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.