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High honors for more grads

To recognize high achievers, the school district will add a "cum laude'' honors system to the traditional distinctions of valedictorian and salutatorian.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Pasco County high schools will soon begin honoring more of their high-achieving graduates by adopting a "cum laude" honors system similar to the one used by most colleges and universities.

The plan still must be put into district policy manuals and must yet be approved by the School Board, but district officials say both of those hurdles are mere formalities.

Currently, the district honors only the top two graduates at each high school with the traditional distinctions of valedictorian and salutatorian. Those two top honors will remain, however other students with grade point averages of 3.2 and above will earn one of the new distinctions.

About 500 seniors would have met the requirements in the 1999-2000 school year, according to district scholarship reports.

Several Florida school districts have made similar changes recently as educators search for ways to honor more students for their years of hard work. Along the Suncoast, only Citrus County has made the change.

"Right now, the No. 1 and No. 2 students get recognized, but what about No. 3 and No. 4?" said Stan Trapp, an assistant principal at Land O'Lakes High School. "Those are special kids who deserve to be recognized."

The new system would honor students at three levels: Students with grade point averages between 3.2 and 3.7 would earn a "cum laude" distinction. Those with GPAs between 3.8 and 4.1 would be named "summa cum laude" graduates. Students with grade point averages of 4.2 and above would earn the "magna cum laude" honor.

High schools could honor the students at graduation in a number of ways. They could receive a special seal on their diploma or a medallion or colorful tassel that would accompany their graduation gowns.

The committee of educators studying the cum laude idea discussed eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian honors but decided not to abandon that tradition. Many colleges and university admission offices require students to disclose where they ranked in their graduating classes. Some scholarship programs also use class ranks as a factor in determing their winners.

And many parents and students didn't want to do away with the valedictorian and salutatorian honors, said Lori Hartwig Yusko, the administrator who helped develop the plan.

"It's so rooted in tradition that people weren't willing to give it up," she said.

- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241, or 869-6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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