Parent concerned over picking top student

Published 8:50 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making the decision who receives top ranking in the senior graduating class is like deciding the victor in a football game at halftime, and it gives students the impression the work they do in the second semester is not important.

Those were the points Martha Simmons made to the school board at their meeting May 10. Simmons’ son, Nick, will graduate next month.

In the nine years Simmons and her husband have had children go through Davie High, she said the first time she became aware of an apparently “unwritten policy” was when her son told her earlier this year there was no way his rank of second would change because the rankings were decided at the end of the first semester, halfway through the school year.

Nick and another student attempted to discuss the situation with Audrey Carr, guidance counselor, in late January, but Simmons said they were turned away and told to fill out a change in class form.

She met with DHS Principal Doyle Nicholson on Feb. 2 and said the reasons he gave her that rank had to be determined at the end of the first semester were that final grades would not be ready before graduation, there would not be adequate time to get the information to the Davie County Enterprise Record and into programs, that is when junior marshals are decided, and it was a countywide policy.

She said Nicholson told her it was “highly likely” the number one ranked student at the end of the first semester would not be the number one ranked student at the end of the school year.

Simmons’ arguments were that if the school can determine who is eligible to graduate, they should be able to determine rank, the newspaper and the moving of a few names on the program should not be an issue, the selection of junior marshals is not relevant to the matter, and the policy could be changed.

She met with Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness on Feb. 12 to ask for a change in the policy, and in a letter to her from Hartness dated Feb. 16, was told changing the calculation procedures at this point would not be fair to all students.

In a letter to Hartness dated Feb. 28, Simmons said: “The two students who could potentially move up in class rank are enrolled in AP classes that are not credited numerically as AP classes until the end of … the semester. Therefore, Davie High School is essentially penalizing students for taking year-long AP classes their senior year.”

She asked again for a change in the policy, and received an email from Hartness on March 7 that said he had not changed his decision and was sorry they did not agree on the issue.

On March 11, Nicholson sent Simmons an email informing her there was nothing in print stating whether end-of-year or mid-year GPA is used to calculate honor speakers, but that it had been the procedure to use mid-year GPA. On March 15, Simmons sent Hartness an email asking him to reconsider his decision and saying if fairness was the only concern cited, it was not fair to expect a student or their parent to be aware of an unwritten procedure and its impact.

The next day, Simmons received an email from Hartness that read: “In all due respect Mrs. Simmons, I will not continue to revisit this issue with you. Your concerns have been heard and carefully considered. I have made a decision and have shared the rationale behind that decision in writing. We will have to agree to disagree. I wish your son the very best as he completes his senior year.”

Simmons also reached out to school board members, receiving an email from Chair Chad Fuller that her email and letter had been received, thanking her for sharing her concerns and telling her they would take her concerns into consideration.

The only other email she received from anyone on the board was from Paul Drechsler, who told her he would discuss her concerns with Hartness and the board. He told her he asked for a discussion among board members at the May meeting, and said he suspected the discussion would begin in the closed session, since it involved a student issue, but hoped it would roll over into the open meeting time as well.

It did not.

Simmons spoke to the board, something she said she considered her last effort at persuading them to bring about a change, but as is board policy, her comments were met with no discussion.

Erin Foil, director of accountability and student information, said while it is possible to “hand count” the top ranked students at the end of the fourth quarter, something other schools do, “Davie County Schools wishes to give the students speaking at graduation the time to write, polish and practice their speeches. We do not want a student to go through this process, then find out just prior to graduation they will not be able to deliver the speech they prepared.”

She said it would be difficult for exams to be graded and the scores to be entered and audited when school ends as it does this year, on a Thursday and graduation is Saturday. The entire process takes more time than there is between the end of school and graduation, she said, and determining eligibility for graduation is an easier process than determining rank.

A presentation following Simmons’ comments centered on not when, but how grades and GPAs will be calculated going forward, because of the state’s new implementation of a 10-point grading scale and changes in the weighting of courses.

However, also included in the presentation was a recommendation to identify the top two ranked students at the end of the second semester, by using final grades of the top 10 ranked students and hand-calculating the GPAs. The change would begin with the current freshman class and could be voted on by the board at their June meeting.

Simmons wonders why, if rank can be calculated that way in 2019 (when the freshman class graduates), it cannot be done that way now.

“I just don’t understand the honesty or fairness of this. It was implied to me by administration that I should have addressed this concern prior to the start of the school year, but this is an unwritten procedure; I couldn’t find it in writing anywhere. If it’s an unwritten procedure, how am I supposed to talk to anyone about it? If the school system wants kids to be honest and project honesty and fairness, this is not the way to do it.”