First in her class, but third at her new school after desegregation. Valedictorian loss still hurts.

So much education news erupted over the last few days that we didn’t get to discuss the interesting story about the top Milton High School graduate who was bumped from the valedictorian spot because he spent a year abroad.

The news story inspired a response from a DeKalb educator, who was also denied the valedictorian honor because of a “technicality.” In her case,  it was moving as a high school senior from a black high school to a white one in the wake of desegregation. Her No. 1 spot was never recognized at her new school.

Take a look at both:

According to the weekend news story about Milton High student Bhanu Kumar:

The top student at Milton High School, described by a school counselor as “the most academically proficient student that I have encountered during my 35 years as an educator, ” won’t get to be valedictorian of his class when it graduates tonight.

Bhanu Kumar, 17, has attended Fulton County schools since second grade. However, his parents pulled him out of school during his sophomore year for an extended trip to India, so he did not attend the required five consecutive semesters of high school to qualify as valedictorian.

As word spread about Bhanu’s dilemma, nearly 300 of his classmates joined an online protest calling for the school to give him “his rightful honor of valedictorian of the Milton High School class.”

Fulton County Schools spokeswoman Allison Toller said the rule’s intent was to guard against situations such as a student transferring into a school with high marks earned at a previous school with a less rigorous curriculum.

Here is the reminiscence of retired DeKalb educator Melvena Jordan about her experience:

On Friday  as I was preparing to attend my twin sister Lorena Jordan Williams’ retirement of 35 years in public education ( Clarkston High School and in North Carolina), I read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Milton High School senior Bhanu Kumar who, although he had the highest average in his senior class, missed being named the valedictorian because he had not attended the required five consecutive semesters to qualify as valedictorian.

I am very passionate about who is named a school’s valedictorian. It becomes very personal for me. As a former teacher of ninth graders, I would ask my students who will be valedictorian of their class four years from now. Many of them claimed that honor and many times they worked hard enough to achieve that. As I recall at Cedar Grove High School, such students as Carl Jones, James Bowden, Dennisa Thomas  and 2010 valedictorian Jamel Dobbs all stepped up to plate and took that honor.

Now, this is the rest of  the story. This year my  twin sister and I will celebrate our 40th class reunion from being out of high school. Because of  desegregation, our predominately black high school (C. F. Pope High) closed down in our hometown in North Carolina and we were sent to Burgaw High School in our senior year.

(Although the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it took many years for the laws to be enforced in the rural South.)

Our junior year, we were the chief marshals for the senior class  at C. F. Pope High because we had the two highest GPA’s  in the class. We were looking forward to being named valedictorian and salutatorian, just like the triplets Lauren Boden, valedictorian, and her sisters, Allison and Stephanie, co- salutatorians, were at Lakeside High School  this year.

But Burgaw High School chose to give the honors only to their own students, both of whom were white. I can still recall the students’ names today. In the class, I ended up being ranked third.  There was no discussion of having co-valedictorians.

That same year when the predominately a black high school was closed in a neighboring county in North Carolina, a support system was put in placed at Wallace-Rose Hill High. Its class of 1970 had a co-valedictorian and a co-salutatorian. My longtime friend Mary Elizabeth Wright, who is a professor of  law at North Carolina Central University, was one of those co-valedictorians.

Through the years when I attended conferences, workshops or seminars, they have sometimes asked former student council presidents, class queens or valedictorians to stand.  Sometimes, I forget and have to catch myself because I am already up from my seat.

So, Bhanu Kumar, I agree with your mother that they should have at least given you the privilege to share the honor of valedictorian. I should also have had that same privilege.


39 comments Add your comment

Elizabeth

May 25th, 2010
1:07 pm

I do feel sorry for all of these students. I also feel sorry for a classmate of mine who should have valedictorian our senior class in 1965. We wer all in advanced classes which wer more rigorouls than the classes other studetns took. Yet no allowances were made in those days for advanced or AP classes. A studetn who took easy business classes and geneal office classes was valedictorina, while the boy in ur class who should hae been valedictorian missed out by 1 point because of his advanced calculus class. Today these classes are recognezed for their rigor and extra credits are given. Not so then.

Proud Black Man

May 25th, 2010
1:16 pm

“But Burgaw High School chose to give the honors only to their own students, both of whom were white.”

Business as usual in amerikkka…

Proud Black Man

May 25th, 2010
1:21 pm

“But Burgaw High School chose to give the honors only to their own students, both of whom were white.”

Business as usual in amerikkka.

Maureen Downey

May 25th, 2010
1:28 pm

@Elizabeth, Actually, students complain that same thing happens today.
Maureen

DD

May 25th, 2010
1:29 pm

It is amusing and sad to see how our schools often do not (cannot?) exercise common sense. Those who make decisions are just too timid and scared of rocking the boat.

DD

May 25th, 2010
1:33 pm

My wife was a salutatorians. I grew up in a different country where no such honor was recognized at the time of graduation. I never really understood what’s the point of these recognitions. In general, I do think that our schools don’t recognize academic achievement enough – they recognize perfect attendance before academic achievement.

Having said that, I don’t know why some students are so preoccupied about those honors. They should be concerned about their own learning. I think grades get in the way of learning too often.

Angela

May 25th, 2010
1:43 pm

In this world all that seems to be unfair may or may not be. However, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I believe that dwelling a trivial things can hender the bigger things. God has a plan for all from the on set of conception. Take the good with the bad and never forget that much bigger things are ahead and believe that God will make them happen.

@PBM-The sad thing in all of the responses that POOR (Proud) BLACK MAN can’t seem to get that in that small brain of his no matter what his race is. He is an all around SADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD person who truly needs some mental help. He has toooooooo much HATE and loves it when he can bring someone else down to his “PUS– (cat) level. Hey, WATCH THAT BLOOD PRESSURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ChristieS.

May 25th, 2010
1:43 pm

Maureen, is there a secret code for “ignore poster” that we can enter so that we can keep from seeing posts by people who have nothing in mind except sowing discord?

John

May 25th, 2010
1:44 pm

I was valedictorian of my high school class despite moving to the town in which the school was located in the middle of my junior year. I also had the highest SAT score in the class. I am glad that the school from which I graduated didn’t have a stupid rule about having to attend the school a minimum number of semesters. The law has no purpose. If you gradfuate with the highest GPA, with a possible adjustment for Advanced Placement Courses, you should get the honors regardless of how long you attended that school.

the prof

May 25th, 2010
1:45 pm

P Blakkk Man, give it up.

V for Vendetta

May 25th, 2010
1:49 pm

DD,

You’re right. Everyone should be a winner. I don’t know why we even keep score.

Sheesh.

I’m sure there are often lamented tales just like Ms. Jordan’s all over the southern US. It’s a shame. If the kid has the highest average, then he’s the valedictorian–end of story. You did get one thing right, DD: Very often schools seem unable to exercise any form of common sense.

Angela,

LOL. I love how you talk about “God’s plan” and then insult PBM in the very next paragraph–even suggesting that he’s a pu$$y. I can’t even imagine what you’d say about a gay person. I’m thankful every day that “God’s plan” for me was atheism.

Deadelvis

May 25th, 2010
1:53 pm

Wow Elizabeth – I am guessing spelling was not one of the advance classes you took in high school.

DD

May 25th, 2010
2:24 pm

V,

Not sure where you get the idea of “everyone should be a winner.”

GPA of students taking different sets of classes seem to be rather meaningless to me. If you want a rat race, at least make all the rats run the same course.

My professor once told me that successful students are those who come to realize that what matters is their understanding, not grades. Some students get to that point sonner than others. Some never reaches that point, unfortunately. I think we set students on that rat race in K-12 by having such thing as valedictorian and salutatorian.

Proud Black Man

May 25th, 2010
2:26 pm

@ V for Vedetta

What do you expect from a tom? Surely such a humanistic libertarian as yourself understands don’t you.

Proud Black Man

May 25th, 2010
2:27 pm

“Vendetta”

sometimes you have to follow the rules

May 25th, 2010
2:33 pm

I understand the 5 consective semester rule and I believe this is a non-issue. This young man, by all accounts, should be successful in his next academic endeavor. His family gave him the opportunity to study abroad, which many other students could not. What message is being sent to the students who spent their time at the high school.

I saw this on year in high school, not my class; I lived in a military town. Of course kids came and went but one year a young man came in middle of the school year. Based on his previous education, his GPA was the highest and was awarded valedictorian, although he only spent part of his senior year at our school. I was just an underclassmen and thought it was unfair, but I do not remember anyone making a big issue out of it. (BTW, though it should not matter, the young man was Black)

oldtimer

May 25th, 2010
2:37 pm

And then there is the out-of-GA High School I worked at last year…..They had 17 valedictorians. This way those who didn’t have the “ability” to do AP and joint enrollment could receive recognition. They all got 10 minutes to speak…took forever!

HB

May 25th, 2010
2:38 pm

I don’t feel so bad about Mr. Kumar and would argue that for most schools, a single valedictorian is an outdated award not worth getting worked up over — and I say that as a former valedictorian myself who doesn’t think that honor was all that. In smaller schools with fewer curriculum tracks, coming out with the highest grade average may have meant more. In recent years, though, GPA has become too subjective to be a meaningful sole criteria for the top honor — large schools mean competing students have different teachers, choose different electives, take various advanced and AP courses, maybe transfer in from another school, etc. When you figure all that in, is it really a big deal when one student comes out often just a fraction of a point above another? Is that really a sign of greater accomplishment? Mr. Kumar has clearly worked hard to make the most of his high school years, earned the respect of his teachers and peers, and hopefully had a wonderful experience abroad. All of that is going to mean more to him in life than the valedictory honor ever could. Congrats to him!

Elizabeth

May 25th, 2010
2:38 pm

I can spell. I just canot type in a hurry and with arthritis stiffening my once-nimble fingers,

oldtimer

May 25th, 2010
2:39 pm

Angela

May 25th, 2010
2:46 pm

@V for Vedetta,

I know that know one decides that he or she wants to be gay. Yes, there are those who are curious and expriment however, being GAY is not a choice. It is who they are. Yes, I do believe in GOD and know that in no way would I be where I am today without him/her. However, I do not have any antipathy for anyone who does not believe in GOD. I believe that what ever your beliefs are are your own. I even believe that PBM has a right to his beliefs but, I strongly comment on his HATE which tells me that he has a deeper rooted problem than that of people of other races. I do believe that the more I read that he has posted is that he is a bi-racial male who is trying to find his place not only in this world but within his family. I hear a very sad person in all of his comments. I can almost assure that he had a very F— up childhoold and his mother was not at all what a good mother should possess.

I would also, like to ask what is your vendetta if that is what the V for Vendetta is all about.

the prof

May 25th, 2010
3:15 pm

PBM, take off the robes and pointy hat and reveal your true self.

catlady

May 25th, 2010
3:16 pm

40 years ago a girl was moved from her rural high school to our high school. She had not had the same access to the rigorous classes, but was named co-valedictorian, after only 2 semesters (with one semester of grades) from my high school. Her parents threatened to sue if she was not honored. There must not be such a thing as evolution, because we still have spineless administrators today.

When my daughter graduated 7 years ago as number 7 in her class, three of the kids “ahead” of her had not taken any AP or honors classes, and thus had not been tested above the general class level. I think in addition to residency requirements there should be certain classes required to be eligible for the honor.



Freedom Education

May 25th, 2010
3:16 pm

I thought society solved this problem with the “Participation Award”?
Everyone gets one… : )

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by 9thPeriod Marketing and 9thPeriod Marketing, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: First in her class, but third at her new school after desegregation. Valedictorian loss still hurts. http://bit.ly/bTsaOT [...]

Economicwoes

May 25th, 2010
4:29 pm

I remember being propositioned, getting my ass slapped, and called names when they integrated the high schools in Dekalb. The problem, I was a white girl being harassed by the newly bussed black boys.

Lee

May 25th, 2010
5:41 pm

Much ado about nothing. The kid didn’t meet the criteria to be named valedictorian. End of story.

Regarding Dekalb educator Melvina Jordan, if she went four years at her new school, she might have been valedictorian – she might not.

IF a frog had wings……

Mattie

May 25th, 2010
8:54 pm

I was at Milton’s graduation, and was aware of the valedictorian controversy. What was interesting to me was the fact that not only was Mr. Kumar ruled ineligible for that honor, he also was not awarded either of the two other honors given out that night. One was the AJC Cup, the name of the 2nd escapes me, however they were awarded to the best all-around students as judged by the faculty. He was given a nice round of applause when his name was called out, but nothing more than many other students received.

V for Vendetta

May 25th, 2010
9:12 pm

Angela,

Watch the movie (or read the Alan Moore comic, which is slightly more muddled). I’m against big government, especially when it comes at the expense of individual rights. In the movie V is a revolutionary fighting to bring down Britain’s fictional totalitarian regime–one that uses its fascist agenda and religious authority to deny its citizens their freedom and liberty.

Seemed like a perfect blog name for me.

Atlanta mom

May 25th, 2010
10:53 pm

You gotta know the rules.
My daughters joint enrolled (they took classes at Georgia State instead of at the high school) senior year. Under Atlanta Public School rules, the highest grade they could get was a 95. If they stayed at the high school and took the watered down AP course (yes, people, AP classes are not college courses, no matter what the college board wants you to believe) they would have received a 110. Each of my daughters had the lowest GPA of their high school careers because they each took 6 college classes instead of staying in their high school. Each of them dropped in class rank (from 3 to 6, 1 to 2 and the jury is still out on the third). But it was their choice. They chose quality over class rank
I imagine if this young man had to make the choice, he would choose to go to India.

Atlanta mom

May 25th, 2010
11:17 pm

You gotta know the rules.
My daughters all choose to joint enroll at GSU. The highest grade they could receive was a 95. If they had stayed at the HS and taken AP classes they could have received a grade of 110. Each of them had the lowest GPA of their HS career because they took classes at GSU. Their class ranks dropped from 3 to 6, 1 to 2 and the jury is still out on the third.
We knew this may be the case. But, this is only High School. They each picked quality over a class rank.
You gotta know the rules.

Mary

May 26th, 2010
8:59 am

The way the school handled this situation is totally fair; since the five simester rules has long been one the measures in place. When you begin to pick and chose which rule you are going to follow that’s when things become unfair. Congratulation to the correct Valedictorian!!!!!!!!! I am sorry that you all are make the acomplishment of the real Valedictorian bitter sweat. …………This situation is totally different from yours Ms. Jordan.

Angela

May 26th, 2010
12:34 pm

@V for Vendetta,

Thanks for the clarity. I will read the comics. Yes, it now make sense to me too.

Julianne Hayes

May 27th, 2010
9:07 am

Really awesome post. Honestly!

Shannon, M.Div.

May 27th, 2010
2:02 pm

I remember the valedictorian of my high school class–such a joke! She was a bright young lady, but she also worked the system. First, she took every chorus class she could since the chorus teacher gave his students 100s (our valedictorian was based on numerical grade average). Second, she had a habit of “missing” test days and then making them up at her leisure (always with documentation from her parents–and not because she had an LD). As someone who was with her in several classes, I saw firsthand how she played that absence card for quieter test conditions.

She was smart, but not appreciably smarter or more hardworking than anyone else in our classes. Didn’t bother me much (I was ranked 11th or 12th–too much of a rebel to jump through all the homework hoops), but her victory really irked some of our much harder-working peers!

zoe

May 28th, 2010
9:00 am

Our system is changing class rank for the incoming freshmen. It will be based on a weighted GPA with classes taken as joint enrollment AND AP classes considered 5.0 on the 4.0 scale.

Trinidad Kincaid

May 30th, 2010
5:06 pm

blogs.ajc.com’s done it once more! Superb read.

Ram

June 5th, 2010
7:16 pm

My name is Ram Siwakoti and I go to Clarkston High School where Mrs .Lorena Williams taught me US history in my junior year.I will be missing her very much in my senior year. She is an wonderful teacher I’ve ever seen. God bless you in your path ahead.Love you.

highschooler

July 22nd, 2010
2:02 pm

I had the pleasure of knowing Bhanu Kumar personally during his senior year (even though I was a freshman), and not only is he an excellent student, he is actually popular. He is very modest and easy to get along with, and I have never heard of anyone who resents him for his achievements. He does not spend all his time outside of class studying, as some students do, so for him, ranking 1st in his graduating class was not due to focusing on grades just for the sake of grades, but just happened in the natural course of things because of his intelligence.
When I heard that someone else was to be valedictorian, I was very surprised because, at the time, I did not know about this “technicality” keeping him from his rightly earned recognition, and I was pretty mad when I did learn about it. It’s too bad the system is so bureaucratic.