GREENFIELD — To emphasize that students live in a wider world than grade point averages and test results, Greenfield High School will move away from honoring the top 10 graduates, instead awarding cum laude designations to students who not only achieve academically but who meet service, leadership and school participation requirements.
The Greenfield School Board last week decided that starting with this fall's incoming freshmen, top students will graduate cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude.
Even considering just grades, school officials said basing graduation honors on achievement rather than class rank is more fair.
Greenfield High School Principal Paul Thusius said that one year, a graduate could be in the top 10 with a grade point average of 4.23, but the next year, a grad could make the top 10 with a 3.9 GPA.
What it takes
So, a student with at least a 4.2 GPA will graduate summa cum laude with successful completion of at least five college level advance placement courses, provided the other requirements are met. A student with a 4.0 GPA will graduate magna cum laude with successful completion of at least three advanced placement courses or cum laude with a 3.8 or better GPA and one advanced placement course. They too will have to meet the service, leadership and participation requirements.
Grade point averages can be higher than 4.0 because advanced placement courses yield 5.0 for an A, instead of 4.0, the value of an A in regular high school courses.
The cum laude system is based on achievement, rather than on how well classmates are doing, Thusius said.
Based solely on grade point, 16 students would have qualified for graduation honors last year under the cum laude system instead of just the top 10 who were honored, he said. In 2015, 32 would have been honored, in 2014 the total was 21 and in 2013, the total was 13, he said.
School board member Robert Hansen said he supported the move away from honoring just the top 10 because so many deserve honor.
"Some of the numbers from recent years show that students would have qualified for recognition," he said. Honoring all who meet a tough standard is more fair and highlights the district's and the students' successes, he said.
"Earning a 3.8 or better is a way for us to highlight the good work done in the district by our professional educators as well as students achieving in their academic careers," Hansen said.
Class rank will not be done away with because scholarships are tied to it, Thusius said.
"We'll still keep track to help kids with these things," he said.
Valedictorians to stay
Also, a valedictorian and salutatorian will still be chosen and will get the opportunity to speak at graduation, he said. If they decline, the invitation will go to the next student, he said.
A number of high schools including Shorewood, Brown Deer, Pius and Greendale have already moved away from class rank, he said. The two New Berlin high schools have a system similar to Greenfielde's new cum laude system, Thusius said.
The GPA cutoffs separating the three types of graduation honors were set by reviewing the number of students in the past five graduating classes who achieved those levels, Thusius said. Those cutoff points can be adjusted, however, he said.
More than grades
In addition to earning top grades, the requirement that students meet service, leadership and participation minimums reflects school officials' desire for students who graduate more well-rounded, he said. Academics are important, but so is consciousness that they are part of a bigger community, Thusius said.
Problem-solving in math is important, but so is being a leader in a group, he said.
"We want to celebrate that, too," he said.
So, the leadership requirement calls for a student to hold some kind of leadership role.
The service requirement is 60 community service or volunteer hours.
The school participation requirement is taking part in school clubs or sports for at least three years. That can include theater and marching band in addition to clubs and sports.
"We want students to have those experiences outside the classrooms," Thusius said. "Research has shown that kids who are more involved do better."
Finally, a student cannot have any integrity violations and still graduate cum laude.
Parents of the top 20 students in the last three graduating classes gave the proposal overwhelming support in a school survey, Thusius said. However, some parents of students ranking second or third objected, saying it's a competitive world and they wanted their children to have that high class rank on their records, he said.