By Tessa Raebeck
The parents of a Pierson High School senior say their daughter was unjustly denied recognition for her academic performance and that the Sag Harbor School District is doing nothing about it.
Kristin and Paul Davey maintain their daughter deserves to be recognized as a co-salutatorian of the graduating class of 2014 because the district uses faulty guidelines and does not have a clear policy for how valedictorians and salutatorians are named.
Pierson administrators, however, say the district is using the same guidelines it has used for decades and, although they may enact a board-level policy in the future, that change will not happen in the days leading up to graduation.
After taking the complaints to Facebook, Kristin Davey said in a phone interview Wednesday, June 25, that her daughter was in third place by 7/100ths of a point when the grade point average rankings were calculated in January. When the grades were recalculated in April, Ms. Davey said, her daughter had pulled into second by a full point.
Dr. Paul Davey in a statement to the board on June 18 said their daughter was then “invited by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s office to a luncheon honoring Long Island’s valedictorians and salutatorians.”
Ms. Davey said on Wednesday, June 25, that several days after they received the invitation, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols informed her that her daughter had been invited in error.
She was told, she said, that “they were not using those grades, they were using the grades in January, as has been their tradition, and that [my daughter] was not the salutatorian.”
“We asked several times for the school to recognize [our daughter] as co-salutatorian and not to take anything away from the other student, but to recognize them both,” she said.
“I feel that we were misled and it’s gotten kind of worse from there,” said Ms. Davey, adding that she has sent many letters and made many phone calls to administrators that have gone unanswered.
“We’ve had very, very clear guidelines with regard to that, my understanding is certainly for the 17 years I’ve been here and for decades preceding that,” Mr. Nichols said when the issue was brought up at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 24.
The guidelines are on page 17 of the student handbook, which is given to every student and available on the district website.
Mr. Nichols read from the policy Tuesday, which states: “To validate who has earned the highest (valedictorian) and the second highest (salutatorian) ranks in a graduating class, students’ grades are re-averaged at the end of the first semester of the year in which the class graduates. Such determination is final and no adjustment thereafter will take place.”
In a phone conversation Wednesday, June 25, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said, “There was something where I believe some temporary word was passed along that [Ms. Davey’s] daughter was ranked second in the class, but when we checked it was an error.”
“While at the time of the ranking—that is at the end of the seventh semester in the middle of the year that they’re graduating, which is what Jeff read last night [at the school board meeting]—in fact, it was not her daughter,” he said.
“I’d rather not discuss a specific case or a specific child,” he added, “so I can only say that Mr. Nichols clarified it as much as possible additionally last night and no further comment.”
In his statement read on June 18, Dr. Davey questioned the lack of “a formal policy” and asked the board to vote that evening to recognize co-salutatorians for the class of 2014.
“The only thing they keep reciting in this refusal is traditionally they have never done that before and I don’t find that a good enough answer,” Ms. Davey said.
“Because they are lacking this formal policy,” she said, “I just don’t understand why they will not recognize both students…I just really hope that moving forward, the district writes a clear, comprehensive and specific policy so this does not happen in the future to any student graduating from Pierson. I will say that [my daughter] is beyond devastated that her school will not recognize her academic achievement.”
“There has been some discussion about having a more formal policy, there are districts that have board-level policies on it,” BOE Vice President Chris Tice said. “I would suggest at a future board meeting, we discuss whether we want to have that sort of policy on it.”
Later Start Times?
In other school board news, the board agreed to appoint a task force to examine the plausibility of starting school at later times, a move that is gaining traction across the country.
“There’s research that has come out that says if you could do one thing to help your kids do better in school—one thing—it would be to get our kids to school later,” said Ms. Tice.
Board member Susan Kinsella also brought up the idea of allowing varsity athletes to have study hall instead of gym class while in season.
“They certainly don’t need the gym class if they’re playing a varsity sport. Let them have that time to do homework,” she said.
“I think this makes a lot of sense,” agreed Ms. Tice, adding the district could see more athletes participating in International Baccalaureate (IB) and other challenging classes “if they knew they’d have more time to get the work done.”
The board will start its trial of videotaping meetings in July. The first meeting of the month will be taped but not broadcast to figure out some sound and technical kinks and the second meeting will be fully broadcast on LTV and SEA-TV.