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Le Roy principal expects new Laude System to be challenging and obtainable for students

By Howard B. Owens


In the Le Roy Central School District, any student who wants to put forth the effort to graduate Summa Cum Laude, regardless of their academic or career interest, will have that opportunity, said David Russell, principal of the Le Roy Jr./Sr. High School, after the Board of Education approved a change to the Laude System at Tuesday's meeting.

"You can map that out with this system from your eighth-grade year," Russell told The Batavian after the meeting. "You just sit down with your counselor, and you say my goal is to be Summa because again, as I said in the previous meeting, maybe this means the world to you, right? Truthfully, maybe it does, and maybe it means nothing to you. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Either way, it gives you a chance to just compete against yourself."

The district changed from a Top 10 student achievement ranking system to a Laude System in 2018, but the Laude System replaced by the board on Tuesday should make it easier for students' parents to understand if they're on a path to graduation with distinction -- Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Summa Cum Laude.

Under the 2018 system, each year, administrators had to decide which courses were worth two points and which were only worth one.

This created some problems, Russell said.  It caused rifts between departments -- why was this course worth two credits and another course worth only one? And because each year, there are courses added and dropped, students and parents had to be informed each year of the changes, and whether a student was acquiring enough credits to achieve a Laude recognition had to be hand calculated.  The transcript for each student had to be counted against which courses were listed with which values in a particular year.

The big switch under the plan approved Tuesday is that a student need only look at his or her transcript and add up all the classes that provide credit toward graduation.  Every class with credit -- whether Advance Placement or Regents -- is weighted the same.   There's no worry about classes going away, new classes being added, or course credit values changing.

If that makes it sound easier for students to graduate with distinction, it's not, Russell said, because in order to get enough credits to graduate Summa Cum Laude -- currently 32 -- you will need to fill your schedule with credit-producing classes. To get that many credits, there simply aren't enough school hours in the day to allow a student to sit in study hall, and if you're going to get that many credits, you can't avoid more challenging classes, no matter what your career path or area of interest.

"It naturally pushes you towards challenging classes because in order to fill your schedule, there's only so many intro-level courses you want to take, right?" Russell said. "It's still going to mean something to get to Summa Cum Laude. I'm saying, in order to get to Summa, if you're going to fill your schedule every year, it's going to naturally push you to the higher levels."

That applies equally to students who are trying to get into top science and engineering universities, students on a skills and trade track, as well as students who are potential art, music, and athletics majors -- they all have a chance to achieve Summa Cum Laude, or one of the other Laude tiers without, first, competing for the top GPA in their class, and second, taking classes that are of less interest to them personally just because they are worth more credits.

"Now, there's nothing preventing you (from graduating Laude) because you're not worried about competing for the top 10 in a class that might be loaded with complete scholars," Russell said. "Then, you might say, 'I have no shot at ever getting there. So what's the point?' No, I'm competing against myself. And whatever matters to me, now I can build it into my schedule."

The maximum possible score for a student from 8th grade to 12th would be 36 total credits with a 100 GPA. To achieve Summa Cum Laude, a student would need at least 32 credits and a 95 GPA.  Magna Cum Laude would be 30 credits and a 90 GPA.  Cum Laude would be 28 total credits and an 85 GPA.

Cum Laude is Latin for "with distinction."  Magna Cum Laude means "with great distinction," and Summa Cum Laude means "with highest distinction."

The Class of 2023 will be the last class to graduate under the Top 10 system.  The classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026 are under the Laude system but will be eligible to move up to a higher Laude if they qualify for a higher Laude under the proposed revisions. The Class of 2027 would be the first class to graduate under this new Laude system.

The board approved the policy change on a 6-1 vote, with Trustee William MacKenzie voting no.

MacKenzie expressed concern that members of the Class of 2024 will find it more difficult to achieve Summa because of course restrictions during the COVID-19 years. 

"My biggest concern is just any student getting slighted," MacKenzie said. "I know of several who possibly could. So it's just how I feel."

Superintendent Merrit Holly said before the vote that what the board was being asked to approve was a policy -- primarily that change from weighted credits to a transcript-based count of credit-worthy classes -- and there was flexibility based on circumstances for each class to adjust credit totals.

Both Holly and Russell indicated there is room to consider changes for the Class of 2024, but there was no commitment by the administration or the board to make any immediate changes.

Russell said he hasn't spoken to the same families MacKenzie may be concerned about but that he believes there is still the opportunity, without making changes to the credit count, for any member who has been focused on achieving Summa to still do so.  Those students will need to make sure they fill their course schedule with the classes that help them reach that goal.

Also, members of the Class of 2024 have a chance to reach Summa either under the system approved in 2018, or the one approved Tuesday -- whichever one is most favorable to them in terms of credits or points.

"If there's a student who has a study hall going into their senior year, and they're a credit shy of Summa, then my contention would be, you still have an opportunity to reach Summa, that would be my response," Russell said. "If you have a student who's a credit or credit and a half shy of Summa, and they have more than one study hall their senior year, again, you have an opportunity to get to Summa. It might be more challenging, but again, that's part of what Laude is. It should mean something to get to Summa."


Photo: File photo of Principal David Russell. Photo by Howard Owens.

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