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Sat, Dec. 07

PUSD board vote on grad policy disappoints on all sides

PRESCOTT ­ A Prescott Unified School District Governing Board decision about Prescott High School's graduation policy disappointed people on both sides of the debate about whether to overturn the practice.

Rather than overturning the whole policy, members voted three-to-two to allow students for this year only to "graduate with distinction" by earning the normal 22 credits rather than the extra 24 the policy required. Members Joan Fleming and Dee Navarro voted "no" because they believe it is not the board's role to create high school graduation policy.

The board did not, as several parents and students had requested during the April 4 meeting, reinstate honoring valedictorians and salutatorians.

A 2002 PHS Site Council committee designed the policy, which was due to go into effect this year.

Instead of honoring valedictorians or salutatorians, the policy would have graduation this year honor "graduates with distinction."

"Graduates with distinction" must meet four criteria, including earning at least a 4.0 grade-point-average, earning 24 credits, passing one advanced placement course and earning the 16 credits the Arizona Board of Regents requires for university admission. After Tuesday's vote, students no longer need to earn 24 credits.

Students and parents who attended the April 4 and Tuesday meetings, said they weren't aware of the policy. PHS staff said they had provided the information about the policy each year since these students were in eighth grade.

According to minutes from the meeting where the committee created the policy, members did so to help eliminate competition between students and to encourage students to aim for a standard rather than for "being the best." Also, it would help students get a more well-rounded education because it required those extra units.

Allison Arterbury, a senior who would have earned valedictorian honors this year, said, "In life, someone is always the best.

"Someone is always at the top. They're taking that away in favor of mediocrity," she added.

However, Dorrean Walker, chairperson of the 2002 site council committee that created the policy, said she believes the policy was sound and that the committee did enough research to be sure it was in the best interest of the students.

It honored students who worked hard during all four years of their high school career, she said, and while she was happy the board didn't overturn the whole policy, she expressed disappointment that members changed it at all.

Tori Bowman, a senior who would have graduated with distinction regardless of Tuesday's vote, said she believes the vote makes graduation recognition more fair, but she wishes the board had voted to allow honoring a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Board member Tom Staley had crafted a motion to reinstate valedictorian and salutatorian honors, to support a fair honors with distinction policy, to provide class rankings, to eliminate the extra two credits, to give speaking rights to National Honors Society representatives, to widely disseminate information about graduation policies and to honor the top 5 percent of graduates for this year only.

All the other board members voted against his motion, and member Andy Newton then made a motion to drop the two-credit requirement.

Several community members spoke to the board in favor of the site council committee's policy and in favor of overturning that policy.

Resident Paul Hicks, part of Taylor Hicks Sr.'s family (from whom Taylor Hicks School got its name), said Taylor Hicks Sr. had said in a motivational speech at PHS that "you can achieve what you want to do. You can do."

That's where the school got its "can do" motto, he said, and taking away the honor of valedictorian and salutatorian doesn't acknowledge excellence and doesn't promote that "can do" attitude.

Resident John Oakley, on the other hand, said that although he and his wife both were valedictorians of their respective high school classes and four of their six children were PHS valedictorians, "This is a completely changed picture."

Removing valedictorian and salutatorian honors allows students to better expend their efforts and time getting the most out of their high school careers.

Walker said the students and parents present represented a vocal minority and that even the vote changing extra credits requirement is unfair to students who worked all four years to earn those extra two credits.

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