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Kaneland debates future of valedictorian status

SUGAR GROVE – During an early portion of Wednesday night’s Kaneland School District 302 School Board meeting, Ethan Witt, a senior at Kaneland High School, was recognized as a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Witt is ranked at the top of his class, an achievement that, if completed, would earn him recognition as the school’s valedictorian. Later in the meeting, the board was asked to examine whether such titles – that of valedictorian or salutatorian – would exist in Kaneland’s future.

Board members were asked to consider three policy updates. They unanimously approved recommendations to allow athletes and marching band members to be exempt from physical education classes, and also a recommendation to add a policy regarding remote educational programs as the district considers its future as part of a consortium of schools in “blended learning,” which would incorporate some level of Internet-based learning.

The third item was much more hotly discussed – whether to do away with the status of a valedictorian or a salutatorian and switch to a Latin system in which students would be honored as “cum laude,” “magna cum laude” or “summa cum laude” by meeting standards.

Board members were divided, with Teresa Witt as the most vocal in support of keeping the valedictorian status, acknowledging that “I am the mom of the current top-ranked senior.” Witt said, for instance, that in a cross-country race, not all runners meeting a certain time would be declared as the winner.

“Why can’t you have the competition?” she asked.

Board member Tony Valente agreed with Witt, calling the race to be recognized as a school’s valedictorian “a healthy competition.”

“It’s an honor that kids get bestowed upon them, and they work really hard,” he said.

While other board members didn’t reject the valedictorian system, some suggested there might be too much importance attached to the titles. Board member Peter Lopatin said while he’s “torn about losing the tradition of it,” he questioned whether the title had any actual value.

Board member Gale Pavlak said she would favor keeping a valedictorian, but that she would consider the Latin system because “in college, that’s what you’re under.”

When Ethan Witt was recognized during the meeting, Superintendent Jeff Schuler asked what his college plans were. Witt replied that he intends to go to Brown University to study aerospace engineering.

Teresa Witt said that the Ivy League school might not say it restricts admission to those who have achieved valedictorian status, but she noted that promotional materials state that a vast majority of students at the university – above 90 percent – were ranked either first or second in high school.

Board President Cheryl Krauspe said that likely isn’t what drives Brown, however.

“That’s their profile. … That might not be what got them in,” Krauspe said.

Board members asked district officials to provide information about how other districts are handling such an issue.

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