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Clayton superintendent
revises valedictorian policy

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley announced during a Board of Education work session Monday that he is changing the administrative rule governing the selection of valedictorians to eliminate "ambiguity."

Valedictorians this school year will be the graduating seniors with the highest grade-point averages (GPAs), including grades from weighted advanced studies, Heatley said.

For the past decade, the administrative rule on valedictorians has instructed high schools to select the student with the highest "numerical average" as the valedictorian.

School-level administrators interpreted the old valedictorian-selection rule as the average of each student's numerical grades, rather than using the grade-point average, where each letter grade is assigned a point value.

"The manner in which we selected our valedictorians and salutatorians did not reward rigor, and it wasn't very clear," Heatley said. "My attempt is to add some clarity, as well as reward students for taking the most rigorous courses they can take."

Since it is an administrative rule, Heatley said he is not required to seek school board approval before implementing the changes. He said the revisions will be put in to place immediately.

"I wanted to do it as early in the school year as possible, so parents and students would know what the criteria is," Heatley said.

Students who take regular courses will be looked at on a four-point scale, but students who take more rigorous classes, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Dual Enrollment courses, will be graded on a weighted, five-point scale.

In other changes Heatley announced Monday, he said that only the first seven semesters of classes will be used in determining valedictorian status. Previously, a student's eighth and final semester of school was also taken into account.

The superintendent also announced that a student has to be enrolled in a school during their junior year to qualify for valedictorian. He said the reason for this is to make students demonstrate their ability to learn in Clayton County.

"They have to prove themselves," Heatley said. "This is a great honor to receive, and you have to earn it."

School board member Jessie Goree said she disagreed with setting a deadline for when a person has to enroll in a school in order to become valedictorian. "I think you are eliminating someone who could be the valedictorian," Goree told Heatley. "We're talking about rigor, and what's fair to children. Children can't help their situations if their parents have to move during their senior year."

Earlier this year, the school system had a situation in which the valedictorian at one high school had a lower GPA than another student in her class, but she was selected because she had a higher numerical average, the superintendent said. The parents of the student with the higher GPA went to district officials to argue that the system's method for selecting valedictorians was unfair because it did not take course rigor into account.

During a June 29 school board work session, then-Interim Superintendent Valya Lee told board members that she had district officials review the valedictorian selection, and they concluded no policies had been violated.

Heatley said he reviewed the policy and felt the student with the higher GPA should have been named valedictorian.

As a result, he said, he decided revisions were needed to create a more clear method for selecting the top student in each high school's graduating class.

"We'd never had a situation in at least the last 10 years where this had happened, and it brought it to a boil," Heatley said. "The goal is to not let that happen to anyone else."

In other action, the school board voted 8-0 Monday to authorize Heatley and school system Director of Budgets and Grants Ramona Thurman to negotiate a short-term, $35 million Tax Anticipation Note with BB&T bank. Thurman told the school board the district has done this in recent years to cover school system operating expenses in the fall months, until property tax money is received in November and December.

"The same situation exists this year whereby a short-term loan is necessary to bridge the cash flow needs until property tax receipts are received," Thurman said.

Heatley also announced he is revising the school system's uniform-dress policy for students because some principals have complained about not being able to find enough black-, or blue-colored pants. As a result, the superintendent said, students will also be allowed to wear gray pants, and gray shirts from now on.