Athena-Weston, Milton-Freewater on track to bring back valedictorians

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Students who graduate at the top of their class will get to be recognized as valedictorians and salutatorians starting this spring in the Athena-Weston and Milton-Freewater school districts.

On Monday, the Athena-Weston School Board approved a revision to its graduation policy that will recognize the top graduating students as valedictorian and salutatorian.

Athena-Weston School District Superintendent Jerry Copeland said the district had not used the graduating distinctions since at least the 1980s, noting the last time the board policy had been revised was in 1986.

Copeland said that while the district has recognized students graduating with honors from Weston-McEwen High School, it has not represented graduating classes with a valedictorian and salutatorian. To earn the distinction, a graduating senior or seniors must have earned the top GPA.

Copeland said the revised board policy will put the district in line with the Oregon School Boards Association guidelines on graduation distinctions. The district first discussed the revision in August, and approved the changes this month.

The Milton-Freewater School Board is set to approve a similar board policy next month. Like Athena-Weston, the district has not recognized a valedictorian or salutatorian in recent years.

The district has, however, issued honors diplomas to McLoughlin High School students who take college preparatory classes throughout school.

During the board’s August board meeting, Interim Superintendent Jim Reger brought up the topic for discussion. A parent had apparently contacted the district wondering why top students were not recognized as valedictorian and salutatorian, saying doing so would open opportunities for specific college scholarships geared for top graduating seniors.

Reger said Mac-Hi used to have a valedictorian and salutatorian, but that years back the practice was changed.

“We went away from really recognizing our top-achieving students,” Reger said this month.

The Milton-Freewater School Board reviewed a draft version of the new board policy during the September meeting. To be considered as valedictorian, a graduating senior would have to earn the top GPA while also earning an honors diploma after taking college prep courses.

The salutatorian would be the No. 2 student. In the event of a tie or multiple top students, the valedictorian slot would be shared by those students, and there would be no salutatorian.

Board members seemed to be in agreement that high-achieving students deserved to be recognized for their work.

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