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NH moves from vals/sals to Latin system

July 24, 2019
The North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees unanimously approved additions and modifications to the high school student handbook as presented — eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian and reducing the number of weighted classes — after another lengthy discussion with concerned parents and community members at its regular monthly meeting July 11.

The approved changes include removing the following classes from the weighted course list beginning with the class of 2021: Finite Math, Band/Jazz/Choir, German III, Spanish III, Advanced Anatomy and Physiology.

"We're not trying to diminish those classes in any way, shape or form, but we're trying to create opportunities and avenues in the kids' schedule so they could have some selection and some choices as they move forward," Superintendent Dr. Lance Richards said.

The following classes will remain weighted: English 9, 10, 11 and 12 Honors, Spanish IV, German IV, Geometry Honors, Algebra II Honors, Calculus, Pre-Calculus/Trig, Biology I Honors, Biology II, Chemistry I Honors, Chemistry II and Physics.

The move away from valedictorian/salutatorian to a Latin graduation honors system will begin immediately.

Those with a GPA of 4.25 or higher will be summa cum laude; 4.00 to 4.24 will be magna cum laude; and 3.75 to 3.99 cum laude.

Richards said officials met with the top students of the Class of 2020 and they were adamant that they wanted this change to take place next year.

North Harrison High School Principal Matt Kellems said the issues of the past and the corrections were all driven by that competition right at the top.

"We're trying to get away from that," he said. "Trying to fix that."

Richards said the new system will provide more opportunities for students.

"This whole thing has been set up and manipulated and managed for those top five kids, the entire thing has been, it just has been, if we're very honest, for those top 10 kids … by creating this different categories, they'll know. It's like running a race and knowing the distance. This is going to give kids a finish line.

"I feel like by creating these categories we're expanding opportunities for a bunch of kids," he said.

The top 10 banquet will be replaced with a Summa Cum Laude banquet, all classes will count toward students' GPA (including eighth-grade classes for high school credit) and, finally, all future changes will have to be brought before the school board for approval.

The changes were brought about following multiple meetings of a committee made up of students, teachers, parents and administrators. The committee was formed to address inconsistencies with curriculum and the student handbook as well as questions related to online (PLATO) course opportunities, or lack thereof, and other issues raised at recent school board meetings.

The belief of the committee was that the decreases in weighted classes, coupled with the move to the Latin honors system, would eliminate the need to not count (toward GPA) non-graduation-required classes because of the imbalance created through athletic/band PE, middle school and online credits.

Another approved change will strip additional North Harrison requirements to the academic honors diploma to line up with the state requirements.

"There's money for kids out there for Indiana Academic Honors Diploma," Richards said. "It's not fair to North Harrison kids if we have some other barrier to them getting to that when others in the state are getting scholarship opportunities based on that. That's just wrong."

He said the school will add a "with distinction" on diplomas that meet the old criteria for academic honors.

Some discussion centered on whether students could earn a technical degree at Prosser Career Education Center and also an academic honors diploma at NH.

Richards and Kellems said they could not in the past, but now they will be able to do so.

"If it can be done at Corydon, it can be done at North Harrison," Richards said.

An audience member raised concerns about online courses and how/if they would be monitored at the school, while another questioned the rule of not weighting classes taken outside of the North Harrison campus, including those taken with a college professor.

More concern centered around the starting time for the changes.

"(A junior student) already signed up for classes based on weighted classes, why not have it take effect for incoming freshmen?" a parent asked. "(Student) has been affected directly by the stuff we've been talking about the last couple months. It directly affects college and path choice, and now it's changing."

Kellems said all the students in the class will be on the same page.

"The classes are still available for her," Richards said. "She won't be disadvantaged to the kids sitting next to her."

Kellems said all schedules are subject to change and students can come to him or the counselors to have changes made.

Another parent said they understood the changes, but thought it felt a little rushed and should start with the freshmen.

"The point of removing the weighted classes is to create some opportunities," Richards said.

Kellems said with the previous system, students were worried about taking all weighted classes and were worried about certain ones.

"We've had kids worried about that one class," he said. "That's what we're trying to get away from."

One example, Kellems said, is Finite Math. Once students learn it is not a weighted class, they may not want to take it and can choose to take band or choir or something they wanted to previously but could not because it wasn't weighted and they didn't want to lose ground in the race to the top spots in the class.

Tony Rowe, a NHHS teacher, said the previous system focused on the top 10 and not the bottom 160.

He said the approved changes will give all students an opportunity to move up.

"We're allowing more leeway," he said. "I don't think it's going to hurt anyone up there (at the top of the classes). I really don't."

In other business, the board accepted the resignation of girls' varsity basketball coach Melissa Voyles.

"She has brought a lot of honor and integrity to our program and she deserves to retire on top as she really has," Veronica Battista, board president, said. "I hate to see it because she's brought a lot to our program … I wish her all the best. I'm glad she's still going to be a teacher here."

Alisha Briner, the girls' JV coach, also resigned.

Board member Steve Hanger thanked Briner for her time on the sideline.

"She's been a very effective young coach for us," he said.

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