West Aurora superintendent says district will look at changing valedictorian system

West Aurora School District Superintendent Jeff Craig says he understands why some people would like to do away with the valedictorian system for graduating seniors. (Al Benson)

West Aurora School District Superintendent Jeff Craig said he understands the desire to do away with valedictorian and salutatorian designations for graduating seniors.

Sofia Partida, a student member of the School Board and co-valedictorian for the West Aurora Class of 2018, raised the issue to the board this week, saying she would like the system ended due to the pressure it puts on students.

The valedictorian and salutatorian system honors the two seniors with the highest grade point averages.

Craig said he’s been in education nearly 28 years, and his eldest son during his senior year was in the running for class valedictorian in 1997.

Craig said his son had been taking a lot of advanced placement courses and he was three weeks into one class when he realized he didn’t like the class and didn’t need it to get into college.

"He asked me if I would be OK if he dropped out of it," he said.

Craig said he encouraged his son to focus on the classes he had and what he liked in school. Craig said his son was a three-sport athlete and doing a lot of community service work.

"He said ‘I feel so much relief I can enjoy my senior year.’ He came in second (for valedictorian)," he said.

"Now he’s 38 years old, and it hasn’t hurt him," the superintendent said.

Craig said his son graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

"The work that he did is what got him through. It wasn’t a GPA and it wasn’t a course. What Sofia said is right on the money," Craig said.

Craig said the board can look into the Latin Honors system for graduating seniors as an option. That system honors the top 10 to 20 percent of a graduating class.

"Rather than one or two kids, now you are talking about 30 to 60 kids in this elite group and another group of kids that have (academic) accomplishment and have taken courses that they like and have a passion for. That’s what we want our kids to do. I don’t want kids scrambling for a GPA point or what rank they are in. I want them to be able to take courses that help meet their passion and needs," he said.

Craig said the district fully intends to explore making changes to the valedictorian system.

"I think it makes all the sense in the world," he said.

While it is too early to say if a committee will be assigned to discuss the topic, Craig did say the district wants to hear input from the School Board, staff, students, alumni and community.

Craig said while he didn’t expect Partida was going to raise the issue at the School Board meeting, it has been a discussion that district leaders have been having.

"I knew there was a concern and this is a personal matter for me having the experience with my own son," he said. "I know kids put themselves under an inordinate amount of pressure to achieve a GPA. Why do we do that to kids? Kids should be able to enjoy their high school years. They should work hard but work hard in classes they like to take and classes that will benefit them not only in their preferred advocacy when they leave high school but classes they think they can learn from."

Craig said he thinks the discussion will get underway this spring or summer.

"Obviously we can’t just flip a switch," he said.

Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

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