The pros and cons of Foothill Tech’s elimination of Valedictorian and Salutatorian
May 18, 2023
As of the 2023 school year, Valedictorian and Salutatorian will no longer be awarded to students of current and future graduating classes. This change was formally announced by principal Russel Gibbs in an email which was sent out on March 22, 2023; only a few months before seniors will walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. This change has many positives and negatives which are both explored throughout this article.
The cons of Foothill Tech’s elimination of Valedictorian and Salutatorian
For as long as students at Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) can remember, there have been awards given to seniors who have achieved what is deemed as academic excellence. Whether they were given Valedictorian or Salutatorian, it’s a way for their hard work and effort throughout their four years at Foothill Tech to be recognized and exemplified in front of family, teachers and peers. However, this long standing tradition has come to an end.
According to an email sent out by principal Russell Gibbs on March 22, 2023, there are six definite reasons as to why this award has come to an end, ranging from its supposed impacts on student culture, stating it “[makes] high performing students very competitive with one another, causing significant anxiety and stress.” The system in which the award is calculated is also mentioned, “The Val/Sal formula at FTHS was exclusionary,” continuing to explain that students who received these awards were typically those in special programs which required application for selection. The email then concludes with a regret that students were not previously informed. Pascal Hayward ‘23 recalls the lack of communication about the changes as they were unknown to both him and his friends, as with many students of this year’s graduating class, “It was never brought down from the top and spoken about directly to us.” Hayward also expressed discontentment with the way the situation was handled as many were unaware of the changes which occurred earlier last year (End of an era: Valedictorian and Salutatorian to be replaced by Hometown Hero award) until Gibbs’ email was sent out, Gibbs waited until the end of the year to re-address this change, “We were never told about it, never able to make any sort of feedback on it before [it was] too late,” adding that it seemed “a little bit disingenuous.”
The idea that the existence of Val/Sal creates a stressful or unfavorable environment was news to students as Gibbs did not support this thought with any specific evidence or anecdotes to show that he has seen students experience this. Hayward recalled his confusion on that particular point expressing that he thinks it’s “not necessarily something that people stress about.” Furthermore, Hayward added that it’s “something that you get after you’ve gone through all that hard work” rather than a large stressor. For many students, Valedictorian is the prize at the end of the race, the final huzzah if you will. If the student is a hard worker and wants to be at the top of their class, they will continue to work towards that goal regardless of what title Foothill Tech decides they are deserving of. Furthermore, being at the top of your class is still an enormous feat and if one is doing this purely for the sake of a college application, they are now losing out on a title which they both worked hard for and righteously deserve; if they are working towards the title for the sake of doing as well in school as they possibly can, they are also now losing out on recognition for their determination and willingness to work hard.
Another reason that Gibbs addressed was that the process in which Valedictorian and Salutatorian (Val/Sal) was calculated stating that as both VUSD (Ventura Unified School District) and Foothill Tech moved forward with creating greater access for dual enrollment for students, “the formula or overall graduation honors system needed to change” as college courses were not included in the Val/Sal calculations. While this is a strong point and many may see the validity in the statement, who says that Foothill Tech and VUSD can’t simply change the formula to be more inclusive? While the new Hometown Hero award sounds justifiable, it should simply be an addition rather than a replacement.
Hayward reflected similarly saying, “I don’t think you need to remove Valedictorian and Salutatorian to have [Hometown Hero],” continuing to explain how these awards are universally known and give students a chance to be further recognized as they arrive at jobs, colleges and internships, “having those awards, I think, people would be able to recognize that instantly.”
Hayward, along with other students in the graduating class, felt as though they may have been in the running for this award and while no longer being given the chance to receive it may be unfortunate, he felt the most bothersome part of the situation was how it was handled. “I think it’s not necessarily the fact that I’m not going to get this award or other people aren’t gonna get this award that really bothers me, It’s more an issue with how they went about it,” proceeding to say that it was “disappointing more than anything.” He felt that there was more of an issue with how it was removed as administration was “not telling anyone, not being transparent and not giving anyone an option to change it back” and finished by stating that the decision to both him and “a lot of other students” seemed “erroneous.”
The hard work which many students put in to get into a competitive college or to secure a successful future has always been rewarded with Valedictorian or Salutatorian. As this chapter comes to an end, many students reflect on both its sunsetting and the process in which it was removed. While many are acknowledging that it seems the decision is final, reflection on it is still necessary. Hayward concluded that “it would have been nice to at least have the ability to get such an award and removing that ability […] seems kind of like a mistake.”
The pros of Foothill Tech’s elimination of Valedictorian and Salutatorian
The sun is setting on Foothill Technology High School’s (Foothill Tech) tradition of Valedictorian and Salutatorian after having been in place since its founding in 2000. For the first time in 23 years, students of the graduating class at Foothill Tech can no longer garner the title of ‘best in class.’ Admin has chosen an alternate to this award by “replacing” it with a new title, called the Hometown Hero award.
These sudden changes have come as quite a surprise to some, but to others, the change has been long awaited. Although Valedictorian and Salutatorian are considered to be a high honor, there is a long list of drawbacks that have come with the title. From stress to the plethora of strict rules that one is forced to follow, it seems the change should have occurred long ago.
In an email that principal Russell Gibbs sent out on March 22, 2023, he stated that “Valedictorian and Salutatorian negatively impact student culture by making high performing students very competitive with one another, causing significant anxiety and stress.” Foothill Tech is already known for its high-performing academics, so the extra layer of stress that these awards put on students is unnecessary. A 2023 study shows that over 61 percent of students, ages 13 to 17, feel overly stressed about producing satisfactory grades. These numbers take into account all classes, but what about classes that future Valedictorians and Salutatorians are taking? Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors classes are known to spike stress levels; is the grade bump really worth it?
Another reason the abolition of these awards is beneficial to the school and students is because of the confusing rules one is forced to follow in order to get this title. Due to Ventura College’s close proximity to Foothill Tech, many students have done dual enrollment so that they could get ahead on required classes or take special-interest subjects. Gibbs told students that only classes taken at Foothill Tech count towards Valedictorian and Salutatorian: “Counseling reported that students who desired Val/Sal honors would not enroll in dual enrollment since only classes taken at FTHS counted towards Val/Sal calculations.” Many students that worked towards this title were never made aware of this rule, thus making them ineligible for the honor unknowingly.
The biggest issue that people had with the award, and thus the dissolution of it, was that students who aren’t in a special pathway are unable to get this award. The only pathways that make one eligible for the award are ones where applications and selections are made, such as BioScience and DTech. Only a minority of students in the graduating class are a part of these pathways that one would have to apply and be accepted into in their freshman year. Students may not even know what they want to do in the future, so having a three-year gap between the decision to apply and the award of Valedictorian is unfair.
Foothill Tech has always been considered a very academic school, and many wonder what these new changes will mean for the educational integrity of the school. Although students at Foothill Tech can no longer get Valedictorian or Salutatorian, there will be no changes to the Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude awards. These are also GPA-based awards that many students of the graduating class are able to receive, alongside plenty of other awards that students can still get. Other non-GPA awards that will still be awarded include individual honors for academic departments, Renaissance honors, the “Most Inspirational” award, the Scholar Academic award, the Community Service award, the Eternal Optimist award, the Most Improved award and finally the “Best All Around Student” award. The loss of the Valedictorian and Salutatorian may mean a lot to some, but the elimination of it is better for the majority of students.