SCPS to students: Graduation seating will not change

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Seniors to be contacted with a personal response

By Todd Martin

Officials of Shelby County Public Schools say they have no interest in reverting to class-rank seating for this June's graduations at Collins and Shelby County high schools.

Despite a written appeal by a large group of seniors from Collins and public requests some of their parents, Superintendent James Neihof and Collins Principal Anthony Hatchell said there will not be any return to the old system.

"There's nothing else to respond to in the letter [written by the students and delivered April 18]," Neihof said. "I have met with Mr. Hatchell, and he's going to meet with the students. We're never going to please everybody."

The district changed the graduation recognition policy in January, removing Valedictorian and Salutatorian speeches and seating by class rank for the top students, opting instead for a system that rewards students that hit benchmarks for Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude.

Though the decision to exclude class ranking was heavily and sometimes heatedly debated, the school board and administration decided to leave it out so students could focus on taking challenging courses instead of picking classes to increase their grade-point averages.

However, that decision may have backfired as students approach the end of the school year.

"This is the big motivator for us at the end of the year," said a student who was involved with writing the letter but asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. "We have our scholarships and our GPAs are pretty much set. I know a lot of students who have pretty much given up these last few weeks because there's nothing to strive for.

“And it's the students you wouldn't expect. It's the top 25, the ones that are involved and have been taking challenging course and AP classes."

Hatchell said he is in the process of setting up meetings with students and planning an early "graduation simulation" to help explain what's going to happen at this year's graduation on June 4.

"I'm trying to pull together a group of leaders in that class and show them this new system and that it's probably a better way of recognizing students," he said.

But nothing has happened yet.

"As of yet, I haven't heard any kind of response [to the letter]," the student said. "There's been no announcement, and no one has said anything to me."

As far as seeing a plan in action, the student said it likely won’t help.

"I guess it will help show us what it's like, but it's not going to make anyone any happier," the student said.

Some of the issues – such as knowing class rank – about which students expressed concern will remain available, Neihof said.

And he said he wrote a letter to all seniors outlining the new process and covering a few other topics that "passed in the night" with the letter to the administration.

"Class rank still exists, and they can find out if they want to know, but they're just not going to sit in that order," he said. "We appreciate the care and concern the students have about the matter, and we have every intention of providing recognition to all the students that deserve it."

However, it's the recognition of being the best that the students are after.

"The people that have gotten their recognition, the athletes and whatever, a lot of them have come up to me and said the academic success the top people have had needs to be recognized," the student said. "Initially, I think we thought they would change it, but it's been so long without a response we know they won't."