Wake Ed

Wake County critics compare valedictorian and sports competition

Heather Crew, left, and Anna Bennett are two of Wake County’s 29 valedictorians this year. They’re also first cousins. Crew is valedictorian at Leesville Road High School. Bennett is graduating from Fuquay-Varina High School. They say being at the top of their respective classes has brought them closer together.
Heather Crew, left, and Anna Bennett are two of Wake County’s 29 valedictorians this year. They’re also first cousins. Crew is valedictorian at Leesville Road High School. Bennett is graduating from Fuquay-Varina High School. They say being at the top of their respective classes has brought them closer together. hgargan@newsobserver.com

Is it fair to compare recognizing a high school valedictorian with naming a winner in an athletic competition?

Critics of the Wake County school system’s decision to stop naming valedictorians have used the analogy of how in sports competitions there’s always a winner. But Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton said that’s an incorrect comparison to make for a variety of different reasons.

Comments linking both types of competition were made after the proposal to eliminate valedictorians was first publicly discussed by the school board on April 26. Critics have focused on how Wake has said that the competition to be named valedictorian – the title which goes to the senior with the highest grade-point average – has become “unhealthy” in some cases.

“Are we eliminating athlete of the year and athlete of the week recognitions?” said Paul Lawler in an April 27 online comment. “Didn't think so.”

The comments, both online and in emails to school board members, picked up after the board gave initial approval to the change on May 17.

“Kids compete in sports and they should also compete in academics,” said Ben Hershenson in a May 23 online comment. “PC reigns supreme more and more. This is the continuation of the slippery slope toward mediocrity to assuage 'feelings'. Horse pucky indeed...”

Benton publicly addressed the comparison on Tuesday before the board gave final approval to a policy change that will drop the naming of high school valedictorians and salutatorians after 2018. Starting with the Class of 2019, high schools will switch to the Latin honors system and recognize seniors if they have a weighted GPA of at least 3.75.

“If I’m swimming, or if I’m playing tennis, or if I’m playing football, I’m competing with you in the exact same sport with the exact same rules,” Benton said before Tuesday’s vote. “We’re talking about students who start taking a variety of different courses, starting in their ninth-grade year, with different sets of teachers.

“So the comparison to athletics, where you’re competing in a contest with the same officials, just is not even a correct analogy. For some reason, people have chosen to miss that.”

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