Fate of middle school graduation up to vote

Fate of middle school graduation up to vote

DANVILLE – Greg Hilleary said he understands both sides of a debate to eliminate eighth-grade graduation exercises at North Ridge and South View middle schools.

"It's a hard one," Hilleary said of the decision he and other Danville School Board member will be asked to make this week. "The one extreme is canceling it completely, and the other is leaving it as it is. I'm hoping we can reach some type of middle ground here, but I'm not sure exactly what that will be."

Board members will vote on whether to eliminate the exercises starting this year.

The recommendation was made by Principal Mark Goodwin of North Ridge and Principal Jason Bletzinger of South View, after discussing the idea with their schools' leadership teams and staff.

Goodwin said that years ago, students could graduate from the eighth grade and get a job.

"Basically, they're just being promoted to the ninth grade," he said. "After they complete their senior year of high school, they graduate and get a diploma. That means something."

Administrators said having that experience in eighth grade may take away from the uniqueness of the high school one.

They also believe the time students and teachers spend practicing for the ceremony would be better spent focusing on academics. In addition to practicing at their own schools, students and teachers must practice at the Danville High School auditorium, where the ceremonies take place.

In addition, they have said the commencement exercises have grown from a simple ceremony into more costly, elaborate affairs, which can be a financial burden on parents.

School officials have discussed the idea of eliminating the ceremony at least two times in the last decade.

The last time it came up two or three years ago, Hilleary's 16-year-old son, Ross, served on North Ridge's student advisory board, which made a presentation to the school board regarding the matter.

"They did a survey," Hilleary said. "As I recall ... about half of the student body that was contacted was for it. The other half either didn't care or didn't really want it. At that time, the board didn't make a move either way because there was no direction. It was just kind of sitting there on the fence."

Hilleary said he agrees with administrators that some students may feel as if completing the eighth grade is "the pinnacle of their educational career. But, he also sees the viewpoint of parents, who feel their children do need some type of recognition for their work so far.

"I can see having some kind of ceremony, maybe just not at the high school and looking like a high school graduation," he said.

Goodwin said administrators are discussing some alternative to a commencement, after hearing from students and parents who are opposed to eliminating it altogether.

"It wouldn't be as formal," he said. "No gowns."

Also at the meeting:

– Board members will hear a presentation on the district's lighting system, and how it could save on energy bills by replacing old lights.

– Board members will vote on whether to adopt a county common calendar for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years.

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