RALEIGH — Moore County’s newly elected school board elected a new chair and voted to bring back honoring valedictorians at its meeting on Dec. 12.
Even though Moore Schools’ board is nonpartisan, the majority of the new board is Republican. At the swearing-in of new members earlier this month, Robert Levy was installed as the new chair and David Hensley as vice chair.
There was ample discussion over restoring the honoring of salutatorians and valedictorians during the meeting.
During the debate, Hensley noted that the members of the previous school board had ended the practice of allowing students to compete for salutatorian and valedictorian. The former board had replaced those two roles with “Latin Honors” and a “Latin Honor System.”
“It is notable that the last school board eliminated recognition of our highest achievers while at the same time keeping Principal of the Year and Teacher of the Year, and they put their names on plaques in the central office,” said Hensley. He added it was “unsatisfactory” that the district’s high achievers did not have their names posted alongside those honors.
He also said it was laughable that the board removed the student honors due to it being “too difficult” to calculate grade point averages for the roles.
“We’ve got a central office full of PhDs, and we’ve got really smart people. I’m sure we could have figured out something else and not use that as an excuse to eliminate valedictorians and salutatorians,” Hensley said.
Member Stacey Caldwell, who was also a member of the former school board, questioned why Henley was making the proposal instead of it being a public comment-driven issue.
“I believe that the public should have a say as to if it affects their child’s GPA whether it’s for better or for worse,” Caldwell said. “I also personally believe we shouldn’t rush into this decision without consulting with the parents and the students it may affect, even if it’s a survey online.”
Caldwell also asked whether this should be a “top priority” and if it would “do harm to some students.”
“We spent a lot of time on this back in 2018, and I just don’t think this is something we need to focus our time on right now and make a quick decision on,” said Caldwell. She added it had taken that board “months of research” and public input to decide to drop valedictorians and salutatorians.
“As I pointed out before, parents and their children choose whether or not they’re going to compete for and strive to be the valedictorian,” Hensley said in response to Caldwell’s comments. “It’s not mandatory. No one forces a student or family to participate.”
Hensley also responded to Caldwell’s claims the decision was being rushed.
“You know, part of my problem with academia is it took two years to decide to eliminate it,” Hensley said. “And I’m sorry that the previous board, you know, operated at a glacial pace, and we’ll have committees and studies and this and that.”
He acknowledged community input was important but said, “at the same time, so is rapidity of action.”
Following more debate about GPA calculations and logistics, Hensley made the motion for the restoration of the honors that included requiring the superintendent to provide the board with a plan to reinstate the honors with a few stipulations.
One of the stipulations was that the selection criteria be an objective measurement, and the other was that valedictorians and salutatorians would be offered speaking places at the respective commencement ceremonies. A third condition was that the names of those receiving the honor be placed on plaques to be displayed at both the respective high schools and at the district’s central office.
Ultimately, the board voted five to one in favor of the move. The lone vote in opposition came from member Caldwell.
The board also removed an agenda item, the renaming of McDeeds Creek Elementary.
“I believe that the renaming of McDeeds Creek — a school named after a Terrain feature — after a recent Medal of Honor recipient would be simple, non-controversial and uniting,” Hensley said. “That obviously was an incorrect assumption on my part.”
“I will not let controversy tarnish the memory of one of our heroes,” Hensley said. “Likewise, I will not let controversy interfere with the mission of this board, which is what you elected us for. The mission of this board – make no mistake about it – is returning discipline and safety to our schools, restoring academic excellence, and fiscal responsibility. That’s why you elected us. That’s our mission, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Hensley had first presented the proposal to alter the school’s name at a special called work session on Dec. 7.
At the close of the meeting, Hensley remarked that the board is “going to be laser-focused on the reasons why you guys elected us.”
He listed returning safety and discipline to our schools” in the wake of fights that have arisen in the district’s schools as well as restoring academic excellence.