At one time, every school district in Portage County had at least one valedictorian, with some schools having multiple students sharing the top honor.

Not so anymore.

Portage County schools are slowly moving away from awarding the honor, as about half of the public school districts in the county are going to the Latin honor system used in colleges and universities.

Schools that have adopted the Latin system say they want to recognize more students, not fewer. And even some districts who still do things the traditional way say changing to the Latin system is something that they have considered.

The Latin ranking system, often used at the college level, is growing in popularity among high schools. Students with grade-point averages of 3.5 to 3.74 are designated as cum laude or “with praise.” Those with grade-point averages of 3.75-3.99 are designated magna cum laude, meaning “with great praise.” Students graduating with grade-point averages of 4.0 and higher are summa cum laude, meaning “with highest praise.”

Portage County school districts that have embraced the program are Aurora, Field, James A. Garfield, Kent, Rootstown and Waterloo — exactly half of Portage County’s 12 school districts.

Schools following the traditional style are Crestwood, Mogadore, Ravenna, Southeast, Streetsboro and Windham.

Schools that embraced the Latin ranking system generally phased the program in over a period of years.

Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent first proposed the idea in 2015. Kent did not rank the classes of 2017 or 2018 beyond the valedictorian and salutatorian. This was the first year that commencement took place with no valedictorian at all.

Superintendent George Joseph said the system meant that more students could be recognized for their achievements. The Class of 2019 had 40 students designated summa cum laude, 26 magna cum laude, and 27 cum laude. In addition, 56 students received honors diplomas, 62 were recognized for being in the National Honor Society and 12 graduated with the district’s new “Seal of Biliteracy” which means they are fluent in two languages.

“We have so many kids who have academic success,” he said. “Here is a way we can celebrate them.”

 

Kicking it old school

Half of Portage County’s schools still name a Top 10. But at one school, nearly two-thirds of the Top 10 are valedictorians.

David Kennedy, principal of Southeast High School, said the school does not issue weighted grades for advanced courses. So all six of the valedictorians in the Class of 2019 have 4.0 grade-point averages. Students also need to take certain classes to be in the Top 10.

He said the district’s leadership has discussed the idea of using the Latin system and, for now, has decided that it’s not right for them. He said that if the district decides to put the system in place, it would have to start with the freshman class.

“Being a valedictorian used to mean a lot more,” he said. Now, he said, scholarships are decided by other things, such as ACT scores.

Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala said the district has not had more than one valedictorian in his years with the district. The district leadership has talked about putting the Latin system in place, but has decided not to change the system. He said the district doesn’t want to change things unless there is a good reason to make changes.

“We’re open to best practices,” he said. “We want to do what’s best for the kids.”

 

Who gives the speeches?

At many schools, the valedictorian addresses the other students at commencement ceremonies.

That’s the case at Southeast, even though there are six of them.

“It’s an honor for them to get to speak at graduation,” Kennedy said, adding that he gave up his own speech to free up time for the students to speak. “It’s about them.”

 

Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or dsmith@recordpub.com.