Did the Miami-Dade School Board do the right thing last year when it decided to get rid of valedictorian and salutatorian honors in the county's public high schools, beginning with the class of 2007-'08?
This was one of the main questions asked of four young adults who are not far removed from their own high school years.
In Miami-Dade, no longer will the students with the top two grade-point averages be singled out for honors. Instead, a system that bestows honors on a greater range of students is in place: Students who graduate in the top 5 percent of their class will receive summa cum laude honors; students in the top 10 percent, magna cum laude; and the cum laude designation will go to the top 15 percent of the students or any student who earns a grade-point average of 4.0 or better.
(In the mid-1990s, the Broward School Board considered doing away with class rank but dropped the plan after fierce debate.)
The four who spoke up during an hours-long discussion included a valedictorian -- Jessica Idiculla, 18, who graduated this year from Cooper City High School, in Broward County -- and a salutatorian -- Weina Scott, 18, who also graduated this year from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School near North Miami Beach. Two other panelists had been excellent students but had not been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in their class: Andrew Ruiz, 18, from Hialeah High School, and Becky Farber, Palmetto High School '06, who now attends Bryn Mawr College.
All four panelists have ties to The Miami Herald because they were Silver Knight honorees. While in high school, Becky also wrote a column for the Neighbors section of The Miami Herald.
What follows are excerpts from the conversations that were held at The Miami Herald's Miami office on on Aug. 1 and were led by Leah Fleming of WLRN-Miami Herald News and Rory Clarke, an editor at the newspaper.
Q: What do you think about Miami-Dade's decision to remove valedictorian-salutatorian honors?
Becky: I completely support it. I say, get rid of it. I think that those top two spots cause so much drama, so much pressure. I've seen friendships collapse. I've seen students who are friends not give the math homework to other friends because they want to see each other fail the next day. I just think the pressure becomes overwhelming.
It doesn't really matter in the end because we all know who's smart, we all know who the smartest of our classes are. Kids talk and that's going to be the point of it. We're always going to talk and we're always going to know who's going to be smart, and I think to have the ranks and to have it out in the open and to have it published by Miami-Dade . . . is really fostering that type of competition that I don't think is healthy.
Weina: I think the reason why I'm so against the valedictorian and salutatorian is because we could have been more productive without it. The top 10 people in my school, we were very competitive, so we had to look over our back all the time -- who's taking what classes, spying on each other in terms of schedules and stuff. I think it would have been better if we collaborated.
Andrew: I'm unbiased about it . . . I think it's a nice honor for someone to have to be valedictorian-salutatorian. I haven't witnessed, as Becky has, the fighting so much.
Q: Jessica, this decision doesn't affect you because you went to Broward schools, but what do you think about it?