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What we think: Sit-down needed for graduation debate

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The concern by parents that their seniors won't be appropriately honored at graduation could have been avoided.

As you have been reading on these pages these past few weeks, there is an obvious and increasingly vocal disconnect between the parents and supporters of students in our county high schools and the administrators with the school district. We dare say there’s even a disconnect with the school board itself.

There has lingered in their district for a couple of years now a debate – sometimes raging hotter than others – about how high-achieving students should be honored at commencement.

First, we are glad there are so many students worthy of recognition. Second, we are glad so many people care about those students and want to ensure that their performances are noted for the world to see.

But clearly there was a class or two skipped somewhere along the line when school officials obtained the board’s approval to change from a policy of seating students by class rank to one that honors them in a cum laudesystem like those employed by universities.

Both ideas have merit, and both really seek the same goal – true honor for truly good work – but their proponents are definitely not reading from the same script.

First, there were thoughtful My Word pieces written by parents of students they fear would be undervalued by this new system.

Then there was the response from the interested chair of the school board, Sam Hinkle, who sought to understand better the parental position on an issue he had heard debated in meetings earlier this school year.

Then today we have a column from Superintendent James Neihof, who explains that the new policy really is more effective in doing just the sort of underscoring of effort that the parents say they are losing.

What we have here is, in the immortal words of Strother Martin, a rather obvious failure to communicate.

Perhaps that’s because the first time this change in policy was to have been implemented, made, two years ago at Shelby County High School, it was done without parental or student input, in a rather cavalier manner, and generated not only parental response but also a petition from the students who felt they were being slighted for effort already expended.

That decision was rescinded when cooler synapses were processed, but the more recent plan is likely to remain in place not because it’s worth so much laudebut because it was explained not only in board meetings but also in newspaper accounts of those meetings.

Given all of this academic badminton, we are left with two very simple conclusions fueled by the clarity of retrospect:
Perhaps a town-hall-style meeting with parents of seniors might have built more consensus and understanding on the concept.

And maybe this is the sort of sea change that should be phased in, announced as policy for, say, the freshman class to be activated when they graduate, so the playbook is the same for all before they break out of the academic huddle.

For now what we have left, as one writer noted, is really sort of a game of academic musical chairs, when students danced to one tune only to find their seats had been moved when time came to sit down.

Sitting down is always a good place to be, and sitting down and discussing this issue with parents might have saved a lot of complaining, ill will and, ultimately, unhappy moments for students amid the usual great joy of Graduation Day.