A discussion over recognition of students took up the first 45 minutes of the Panhandle Board of Education meeting on Monday, Nov. 16, with those affected most by the decision leading the discussion.
Five students, four members of the class of 2021 and one member of the class of 2022 stated their views on the valedictorian and salutatorian structure of recognition currently used by Lincolnwood High School, which recognizes the top two students in the senior class.
Seniors Jordyn Gerlach and John Speeks were on hand to speak about an alternative recognition system, the Cum Laude system similar to what many colleges use, while seniors Ian Marvel, Dorie Krager and junior Levi Weir spoke in favor of the current system, or at least delaying the implementation of a new system.
Gerlach spoke first, saying she represented the class of 2021 and that students were not pursuing their passion and their talents. She said that students who desired to be valedictorian or salutatorian might have to give up classes that may help them in their careers down the road to pursue weighted classes that would give them higher grade point averages.
Gerlach proposed that the Cum Laude system would give more recognition to students who put in the work and achieved excellence at school, in different facets, not just in weighted classes.
The Cum Laude system would still use GPA, but would be split into three recognition tiers, Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude.
There would also be two speakers still, one who would offer gratitude on behalf of the class and the other who would offer motivation to his or her classmates going forward.
Gerlach said that she believed that more students would participate in career and technical education (CTE/vocational) opportunities, as well as music and art class, with the Cum Laude system, which would help spark student interest in future careers and build resumes for students for their futures.
Speeks echoed Gerlach’s statements, saying that he opted for a path with career and technical education, even though it meant he would probably never have a chance to be valedictorian. He recounted his experiences with FFA and working with his family’s business, Speeks Electric, and how that has made him more prepared to take over that business someday. The downside of the experience is that those accomplishments won’t be recognized on graduation day.
Gerlach closed their presentation by saying that they are not proposing eliminating weighted classes, just that they feel other students deserve recognition on graduation day. She added that career and technical education classes should not be given up for a ten-minute speech on graduation day.
Marvel was the first to speak for the other side, saying that Gerlach did not speak for the class of 2021 and he did not know about the idea until a friend brought it to his attention. Marvel said that he is in the running for valedictorian or salutatorian and that he believed that changing the recognition system at this point was not a fair and just thing to do.
Marvel said that he and other students have chosen to take classes to put them in a position to receive these honors and that it is good for kids to be recognized for things.
Marvel also pointed out that Gerlach has had so many opportunities and done so many things with FFA, he isn’t sure why she needs this recognition as well.
Marvel said that being valedictorian will help him with scholarships and help him with his resume. He added that he has given up things and sacrificed to get where he is at this point.
While he wasn’t able to take band this year, Marvel still found a way to play because it is one of his passions. He also wasn’t able to take choir, but found a way to participate with the Lincolnwood choir, too.
Marvel said the essence of being valedictorian isn’t that you get to give a speech, the essence is that you’ve taken these hard classes and you’ve excelled at them. He added that it saddened him that those who wanted to get rid of the valedictorian system didn’t think those students should be recognized.
Marvel said that even if the Cum Laude program is implemented, it wouldn’t be fair to implement it this year, saying at earliest it should start with this year’s eighth graders. Marvel also asked the board to put themselves in the seniors’ situation and ask what they would do.
Krager reiterated many of Marvels points, saying that you can’t change the rules mid-stream. Many of the decisions made by the students of the Class of 2021 were done years ago and by changing the goals now, it would be unfair to those students.
Krager also said that the Cum Laude system still has limits to its recognition, it just does it with different tiers instead of only recognizing the top two.
Weir, the 2022 class president, was last to speak and said that the changes should not be made until later, if at all. He said that valedictorian status is crucial to scholarships and applications to service academies.
Following the presentations, the board moved up the discussion of graduation on the agenda in order to discuss the matter with the students.
Board members Scott Cowdrey and Linda Brown both commended the group for speaking with them and presenting their view points. Brown added that they are at the point in their lives where they don’t always get what they want and that they have to weigh the decisions that are most important to them.
Board member Brett Slightom asked if any other schools have made similar changes. Gerlach said that Litchfield has implemented similar measures, with Superintendent Aaron Hopper adding that it starts in the 2024 school year, and Jerseyville has also changed their recognition system.
Board member Dana Pitchford said that the statement that students are not pursuing their passion and talents saddened her and that who cares about an award if it doesn’t lead to something you’re passionate about.
Pitchford added that she can remember the honorees from last year and from her class, but no others. She said of the ones from her class, one is a stay-at-home mom and the other is a doctor, both of which are fine career choices.
Pitchford said in closing that regardless of what you’re interested in, if you put in the work and are successful, you’re going to be rewarded.
Board President Terri Payne thanked the students and the others in attendance there to support them and said that there would be no decision on changing the recognition system at this time.
After the graduation discussion, the board continued business as usual, approving the consent agenda and the preliminary 2020 tax levy.
Superintendent Aaron Hopper presented the board with two options. The first was based on projected adjustments of the EAV (equalized assessed valuations) for the district. To keep the district on the level of funding that it has had in the last few years, an increase of 6.29 percent to the tax levy would be necessary, which would require a Truth in Taxation hearing.
Hopper said the other option is to cut $47,000 in expenses from the budget, which would bring the levy down to an increase of 4.9 percent, which would not require a Truth in Taxation hearing.
Hopper recommended levying the larger amount mainly due to uncertainties regarding state payments. He added that the district could look at bond abatement in December, January and February, which could mean a two or three cent difference in the tax rate.
The board agreed that the 6.29 percent increase in the levy would be the best option and Hopper said that there would be a truth in taxation hearing notice published before the December meeting.
In regard to athletic programs, Hopper said that Lincolnwood was pretty much in a holding pattern and that the school had decided to wait for more direction. Some of that direction came the following night as all winter sports were put on “pause” by the IHSA after Governor Pritzker announced that Illinois will operate under Tier 3 mitigations.
Hopper said that his recommendation would be that the school district not go outside the guidelines of the IDPH and the ISBE, which had previously sided with the governor in terms of not playing basketball until spring.
In other business, Hopper presented the Illinois School Report Card data, which was incomplete since testing wasn’t done last year, and approved the first reading of board policies as presented.
In administrative reports, Lincolnwood Principal Ken Schuster reported that parent teacher conferences were held Oct. 21-22, the Montgomery County CTE team met Oct. 22, the school-wide tutoring program started Oct. 29 and the elementary reading curriculum committee kicked off on Nov. 4, with Superintendent Hopper leading the committee.
Farmersville Principal Jana Masten said in her report that staff members finished ELN (Education Leaders Network) classes during days without students in the building and two members completed Kindergarten Individual Development Survey training. She also noted that Red Ribbon Week was Oct. 26-30 and on Nov. 2, the school had a very successful e-learning day.
“Shout out to our staff at Farmersville Grade School for doing an exceptional job with the remote learning day,” Masten said. “They really stepped up and made learning successful for students.”
In Hopper’s report, he noted that the county facility sales tax has been renewed and the district will receive 10.8 percent from Montgomery county and 0.25 percent from Christian County.
He and Lincolnwood agriculture teacher Monty Elvidge met with area agriculture teachers on Friday, Nov. 13, to review current ag curriculum in an effort to develop a common curriculum. They also reviewed what each school district is offering through dual credit with Lincoln Land Community College.
The group plans to meet again to continue its discussion regarding ways to improve opportunities to work together and develop innovative opportunities for students within Montgomery County and our region of Illinois. Hopper added that he also has a meeting with an ag research facility in St. Louis and is hoping to add even more innovative ag classes in the future.
The district will not be in session on Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 for Thanksgiving break. The district will have remote learning days district wide beginning Nov. 30 through Dec. 4, with the final day of the semester on Dec. 18.
Before going into closed session at 8:21 p.m. (they would reconvene at 8:38 p.m. with no further action), Hopper commended the high school staff for their innovation and overcoming adversity to produce positive results.
“Is it getting easier?” Linda Brown asked.
“Not with remote,” Lincolnwood math teacher Debbie Jenkins said. “Every day is a struggle.”
Jenkins said that internet issues, with students and teachers are a difficulty and a frustration, but teachers are trying their best.
Hopper said that it’s a constantly revolving situation and that has also caused some difficulties.
“The challenge isn’t just the technology,” Principal Schuster said. “Being a month off now has had its impact emotionally. Trying to ask them to learn from home, under those conditions, is tough. We need to get them back in the building.”